The Bears declared a need for change, and followed through Thursday, hiring Saints director of player personnel Ryan Pace as their new general manager.
Pace beat out three other candidates who were interviewed at Halas Hall in the last 48 hours, including the presumed favorite, the Chiefs’ Chris Ballard, who had worked for the Bears for 12 years.
Pace — at 37, the youngest GM in the NFL — will be introduced at an 11 a.m. press conference Friday at Halas Hall.
The Flower Mound, Texas, native, played defensive end at Eastern Illinois from 1995-99, serving as a team captain his final year.
He interviewed at Halas Hall on Wednesday, as did Ballard.
As the director of player personnel the last two seasons, Pace managed the team’s college and pro scouting operations, looking at potential draft picks and other NFL players.
The team drafted starters Terron Armstead, receivers Brandin Cooks and Kenny Stills and safety Kenny Vaccaro during that time.
For the six seasons before that, he was the team’s director of pro scouting, recommending player acquisitions, free agents and directing advance scouting.
Pace spent the last 14 years with the Saints, with all but the first in the personnel department. During that 13-year span, the Saints went 115-93.
Saints coach Sean Payton praised Pace to New Orleans media last week.
“He’s really good at what he does. He’s a big part of what we do,” Payton said. “Guys like him, they’re talented. He’s very talented. I know he’s been promoted here, and deservedly so, a few times. I know this: I get fired up when comes to see me.”
GM Mickey Loomis, too, told reporters that “we’d hate to lose him” but “he’s ready for a general manager’s job.”
Pace declined the Jets’ request to interview for their GM vacancy, as did Ballard.
Ballard was considered a favorite to land the Bears job, particularly by former team executives who praised his work ethic. He worked for the Bears for 12 years before becoming the Chiefs’ director of player personnel in 2013.
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Pace replaces Phil Emery, who was fired Dec. 29 after three seasons. His first priority will be to hire a head coach to replace Marc Trestman. The Bears — and presumably Pace — were scheduled to interview Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles on Thursday at Halas Hall.
Former Bills coach Doug Marrone could intrigue Pace; the two worked together in New Orleans from 2006-08.