George McCaskey paused to compose himself.
His mother Virginia turns 94 Thursday.
“She has outlived her dad, her mom, her only sibling, her husband and a son,” the Bears chairman said Wednesday. “She’s had her share of heartache. But she is a remarkably resilient person. I tell people that she’s tougher than her dad was. And those who know her don’t disagree.”
After deciding to fire his coach and general manager two years ago, the Bears told the world his mother was “pissed off.” She’s not at her breaking point with the new regime despite a 3-13 record this season, though, and he’s still trying to build her a winner.
“This is hard for her,” he said. “Every loss is painful. But she supports what we’re doing. She’s on board. Like every Bears fan, she wants more wins. And we intend to get them for her.”
He’ll do so without making major changes. Both GM Ryan Pace and coach John Fox will return for their third season. The organization of the front office won’t be revamped, either.
“We think we have the right structure,” he said. “We think we have the right people.”
McCaskey emphatically denied a midseason report from a national outlet that the Bears planned to bring an outside consultant to the front office. He and Pace both called the writer personally to deny it. Still, McCaskey, who once worked in television news, refused to refute the report publicly, fearing it would set a precedent of him responding to misinformation. As if that were a bad thing.
“We knew that we were all on the same page internally,” he said, “and that was good enough for us.”
The GM called his relationship with McCaskey and president Ted Phillips strong, saying a difficult season can bring people closer together.
“There’s daily conversations that are taking place,” Pace said. “And I’m a firm believer in tough times, communication needs to be at an even greater, greater height. So they know exactly where we are, they know exactly where we’re going.”
McCaskey told Pace that he’s not naturally patient, but would try to be. He quoted both “True Grit” and Tommy Lasorda in trying to explain the state of the Bears.
Asked what changes his family would make if the Bears have another horrible season, he cited the Western’s line about not dealing in hypotheticals. Queried how this season was different than the 2014 season that got Phil Emery and Marc Trestman fired, McCaskey declined to make a direct comparison but praised the way their replacements have stuck to their plan.
“With all the adversity that we’ve had, I like the steady hand that (Pace) and John have had on the team,” he said. “These guys fought for each other all season.”
McCaskey said he’ll “absolutely” give Pace the freedom to spend as much cap space as he wants, though he praised the GM’s ability to be “measured” in free agency and focus primarily on the draft.
Fans stayed away from Solider Field en masse this year; the Bears sold their fewest tickets since 1979. A former senior director of ticket operations, McCaskey said he’d always celebrated every filled seat and bemoaned every empty one.
“We always want everybody engaged,” he said, “and we understand that we need to play better to get people engaged.”
He called himself a fan of quarterback Jay Cutler — “I love him as a player, I love him off the field,” he said — but said he’d leave the football decisions to Pace and Fox. McCaskey then quoted Lasorda, the former Dodgers manager: “If you listen too much to the fans, you wind up sitting next to them.”
He seems to find that seat comfortable. The chairman said fans have been supportive, telling McCaskey they like the Bears’ coach and GM.
He was assured, though, that some fans were more frustrated than the picture he painted.
“I’m sure there’s restlessness, there’s discontent, there’s unease,” McCaskey said. “People want to see their Bears do better.”