Bears introduce Phil Emery as GM
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Game tape flickered on a monitor approximately a week -- often late into the night -- as new Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery "grinded" in preparation for the mere the interview stage of his arrival at Halas Hall; all the while still grunting through scouting duties at college all-star games as Kansas City Chiefs director of college scouting.
That meticulous approach and seemingly unwavering work ethic seemed the deciding factor in the Bears braintrust making Emery the franchise's fifth general manager.
It's also why team president Ted Phillips -- shortly after introducing the team's new GM at Halas Hall -- stuffed both hands into the pockets of his navy blue windowpane suit and smiled when questioned about the new hire's ability to hit the ground running.
"He'll be ready," Phillips said. "I'm sure of it."
Joining the Bears with 14 years of NFL experience, Emery worked the last three years for the Chiefs as their director of college scouting. Emery's hire marks his second stint with the organization. He worked as an area scout for the Bears from 1998-2004, and during that time the franchise drafted Pro Bowlers such as linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, in addition to cornerback Charles Tillman.
After thanking family members such as his wife, Beth, and daughter, April, and various coaches he's worked with, in addition to front-office executives such as Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff and president Rich McKay, Emery slid on a pair of reading glasses to outline his philosophies while sharing his vision for Chicago's future.
"I'm very pumped up about this opportunity to lead this franchise," Emery said. "This is the premier franchise in the NFL with the premier fan base, and a great sports city: the city of Chicago. I have been here before. That was a great experience. It was my first experience in scouting. What I walked away with is knowing that the passion the people of Chicago, the fans of the Bears, the people in this building have a true passion for winning and working toward championships. I'm proud to be right back in the thick of it, in the quest for championships, and to be a person in leadership to help the group move forward in a cohesive team toward championships."
Emery plans to keep the team's current scouting staff in place, calling the group "one fine scouting staff," but said he'll add more personnel evaluators after the April 26th-28th NFL draft. In the meantime, Emery will meet with Bears head coach Lovie Smith for what the GM agreed would be marathon sessions to thoroughly evaluate the team's roster position by position, while laying out the plan for how the club will proceed with pro free agency, which begins on March 13 at 3 p.m. CT. Emery called it "an honor" to work with Smith, and anticipates maintaining a strong relationship with the coach, a lesson learned from watching interactions between Dimitroff and Falcons head coach Mike Smith as the two enjoyed immediate success in Atlanta.
Emery already possesses fairly intricate knowledge of the roster just from his cram sessions in the film room in preparation for his two interviews with the team.
"I have a very good feel for where we're at as a team, and that will help us greatly as we move forward in this planning process, evaluating pro free agents, and how they fit against the draft," Emery said.
The method for how the team conducts those evaluations will change somewhat, too, Emery said. But most of that won't come until after the draft, when Emery brings aboard more staffers on the personnel side, he said.
Emery worked as the director of college scouting for the Falcons from 2004-08 before a new regime brought in by Dimitroff joined the club and demoted Emery to regional scout. Emery's demotion came about solely because of the regime change, but the new GM proved unflappable and despite the setback continued to live up to his reputation as "a grinder," according to sources. That led Kansas City general manager Scott Pioli -- who worked with Dimitroff in New England -- to bring in Emery as the director of college scouting.
So it's not a surprise Emery wants to incorporate somewhat of a potpourri of scouting methods in Chicago based on philosophies utilized by Pioli and Dimitroff, who won two Super Bowls together in New England.
"What I bring in will be an accumulation of the systems I've learned," Emery said. "A lot of it will be from that system. If (you) want for another word, the 'Patriot system.' But I will tell you this: Thomas (Dimitroff) has gone off on some different vents than the Patriot blueprint. So has Scott (Pioli). You have to adapt it to fit your situation, the talents of the people that you have, the size of the staff you have. Through Ted (Phillips), through (team chairman) George (McCaskey) -- through the McCaskey family -- we'll have the resources we need to build our staff, to scout in the way that I have a passion for and feel is the best way for us to identify talent. So some of those schematic issues won’t happen until postdraft. But we will set it up in a way that we will identify players, (and) we'’ll put labels on players along with our grades to help shape how we feel about that player."
McCaskey said he interviewed the first round of candidates briefly, but was much more involved in the process when the team screened the finalists, which included Emery and Jason Licht, the director of pro personnel of the New England Patriots.
After taking the job in Chicago, Emery spoke over the weekend with former Bears director of player personnel Tim Ruskell -- who also interviewed for the GM spot -- but "they decided to part ways," according to Phillips, who said that "it was only fair to Tim that we addressed whether he'd have an opportunity here under Phil."
Emery is charged with shaping the roster, one he revealed he's in total control over. That entails bringing in weapons on offense to complement quarterback Jay Cutler, while adding other pieces such as a backup quarterback, in addition to depth on defense, while finding a way to work through the contract situation of running back Matt Forte inherited from former GM Jerry Angelo, who was fired on Jan. 3.
Emery's preferred way to acquire talent is through the draft, but he wouldn't get into details about specifics regarding potential free-agent targets or Forte because of the potential for giving away a "competitive advantage."
"What we want to do is look at our team and add players, add playmakers. If we keep doing that, and primarily through the college draft, and fill in where we see strengths in pro free agency, we’ll close the gap (within the NFC North)," Emery said. "That’s what our focus is: Find the right players for us, and that gap will get closed.
"I will say this: What is gonna be targeted are good football players, producers, dynamic playmakers that can help this football team grow; help the players here, surround them with more weapons, more people that can make plays, to help this football team in its march towards championships."
During Emery's tenure in Atlanta, two of the team's three first-round picks -- quarterback Matt Ryan and receiver Roddy White -- became Pro Bowl selections, and the Falcons advanced to the playoffs twice, including an appearance in the NFC title game. Emery said he was proudest of the 2005 draft, which produced White. But in Kansas City, Emery played a role in the Chiefs acquiring safety Eric Berry with the No. 5 overall pick in 2010. Berry became Kansas City's first rookie to earn a spot in the Pro Bowl since 1989, when Hall of Fame linebacker Derrick Thomas was named to the all-star game.
A native of Michigan, Emery has 31 years of combined football experience, beginning his career as a student assistant at his alma mater, Wayne State, before becoming a graduate assistant at Central Michigan (1981-82). Emery joined Western New Mexico to serve as the offensive line/strength and conditioning coach in 1982, where he worked the next three seasons. Emery's other stops include Georgetown College (defensive line coach from 1984-85), Saginaw Valley State (1985-87), University of Tennessee (1987-91) and the U.S. Naval Academy (1991-98).
At Navy, Emery said he learned "about the spirit of people," which is something he won't estimate in the team's hunt for an NFL title.
"I like the way he talks about it. The goal is to win championships," McCaskey said of the franchise's newest hire. "He has a very commanding presence. He's a leader. He's got a vision, (and) he's an accomplished talent evaluator. He's detailed, meticulous, a tireless worker and we think he's gonna do a great job for us. He's gonna make sure that everybody's involved in moving us forward."
Michael C. Wright covers the Bears for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000.
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