Would the Bears have found Ryan Pace without Ernie Accorsi?
“You know what? That’s a hypothetical,” Bears president Ted Phillips said Friday, evidence that while Marc Trestman is long gone, his legacy still lives at Halas Hall. “But I’ll tell you this: Ernie Accorsi, what a valuable asset. Great man. Great insight.
“What he does best in my opinion through this process is … get right to the core of what we should be looking at from a football perspective. You guys have ll convinced me I’m not a football guy, all right? So everyone lays out a pretty detailed vision of how to build a team. I think every one of you would look at it and say, ‘That’s a pretty good plan.’ He just has a way of crystallizing the most important parts of every candidates football plan and says, ‘This is what’s important. Let’s talk about these specific issues. And he’s been invaluable.”
Who knows if 37-year-0ld Ryan Pace will be the next Bill Polian or Ron Wolf or Ozzie Newsome. Ernie Accorsi, whom the Bears hired as a consultant in their search for a general manager and a head coach, has had his share of misses like the rest of them. But it at least appears that the former Giants GM provided enough guidance to give the Bears a better chance of finding the right guy than the last time they were looking for a general manager and head coach.
It sure sounds like Ryan Pace — or a Ryan Pace — is a candidate the Bears would not have come up with in previous searches. “Ernie was really instrumental in coming up with some of the candidates that he thought would be better fits with us after he talked to George and myself. That’s really how it came up,” Phillips said when asked how Ryan ascended as a candidate. “Ernie was instrumental in that. I’m glad he did. I’m glad his name [Pace’s] rose to the top.”
For what it’s worth, the Bears feel they already have gotten their money’s worth from Accorsi. He’s the football guy that Phillips and George McCaskey are not. And while it remains to be seen if he’s right on this one, he gave the Bears guidance they did not have when they hired Phil Emery, who was the director of college scouting for the Kansas City Chiefs when he was hired by the Bears in 2012.
The Bears went against their own grain and hired Pace over Chiefs director of player personnel Chris Ballard, who sent 11 years with the Bears as a scout and one as director of pro personnel. They also interviewed Texans director of pro scouting Brian Gaine and Titans vice president of player personnel Lake Dawson. Ballard was the favorite based on his previous experience with the Bears. That’s usually how they operate. But not this time.
“Loved him,” Phillips said when asked about Ballard. “He’s extremely strong. Every one of the candidates [was strong] — in my opinion, they’re all going to be GMs, probably soon. They all were really, really impressive.”
If the Bears passed on the highly regarded Ballard because of his previous connection to the team, they were not saying so publicly. “I don’t think it’s fair to compare,” Phillips said. “There was nothing negative from Brian Gaine or Chris Ballard or Lake Dawson. It was that Ryan just really had a well-thought-out, detailed plan. We felt it was a really great fit. We loved his intensity. It was more about what he brought to the table than any negative on anybody else. They were all good.”
For what it’s worth, Pace won the interview.
“He blew us away with his intellect, with his forward thinking about always wanting to improve,” Phillips said. He never came across as thinking that he had all the answers. He’s a guy that’s going to solicit input. His personnel staff’s going to be important to him. He values them. He’s going to value their input.
“No ego. His overall plan was really impressive from the standpoint of wanting to understand what we have and when he ends up hiring a head coach, I think the way he articulated it, it’s their job as a GM and personnel staff to make sure they clearly articulate to a head coach, ‘This is what this player can do.’ And the head coach will find a spot for him.”
So basically, Pace said more of the right things. The key in hiring is finding the guy who can actually implement those grand plans. That is an X-factor. Less than three years ago, Phillips was equally enamored with Phil Emery, convinced he was the right guy for the job.
“He brings leadership,” Phillips said of Emery the day of his press conference in January of 2012. “The thing that struck me the most as we went through the interview process was the great presence Phil has. And his presence came with a lot of convictions. He can make the decision that will be tough, that every general manager at some point has to make. His leadership style is one that commands attention.”
With Accorsi around to filter the messages, the Bears appear to have a better GM prospect this time — from a better pool of candidates. When Phillips and George McCaskey conducted the previous search on their own, they interviewed Emery, former Seahawks GM Tim Ruskell, Giants college scouting director Marc Ross, Chargers player personnel director Jimmy Raye and New England Patriots director of pro personnel Jason Licht. Ruskell is a scout for the Titans today; Ross the Giants’ vice president of player evaluation; Raye after losing out on the Chargers’ GM job last year, went to the Colts as the vice president of football operations an assistant to GM Ryan Grigson; Licht, the other finalist besides Emery, is the only one to get a GM job — he was hired by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last year as general manager, but it’s coach Lovie Smith who has final say on the 53-man roster.
Accorsi isn’t the director of football operations the Bears need at the top of their organizational chart. But he’s better than what the Bears had before. He’ll help with the coach, but it’ll be Ryan Pace’s call.
“He’s going to help Ryan, as needed, through the head-coaching process,” Phillips said. “He’ll sit in on all the interviews. After that, that’s the end of the consulting arrangement. But he’s the kind of guy that if Ryan or I or George wanted to pick up the phone and bounce ideas off of him he’d be more than willing.”
Pace has been given full authority over football operations with the Bears. The parameters of that authority is yet to be defined, and even Pace — perhaps as a concession to his lack of GM experience — doesn’t seem too eager to push too much of his new-found weight around. The first test will be the hiring of a head coach. Pace says he will “lean on” Accorsi — and Phillips and McCaskey — for guidance. But the decision is his. It will be interesting to see if he spreads his wings quickly. Because the Bears need a head coach who is more like Pace than Phillips or McCaskey.
“Here’s the way it has always worked,and it’s the way it’s going to work going forward,” Phillips said when asked if he would OK the hiring of a Pace choice he doesn’t agree with. “It’s Ryan’s call. Would we give input, give ideas, ask questions? Absolutely. But at the end of the day, if Ryan is sold on a candidate, we’re going with it.”