George McCaskey, Ted Phillips vow to let Ryan Pace make Bears’ coaching choice

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Bears general manager Ryan Pace, left, and chairman George McCaskey listen during a press conference Monday, Jan, 1, 2018, at Halas Hall in Lake Forest, Illinois. Tim Boyle/For the Sun-Times

Declaring he wanted to speak directly to Bears fans Monday, chairman George McCaskey stared into the video cameras surrounding him at Halas Hall.

“We know this has been difficult,” McCaskey said about nine hours after the Bears fired coach John Fox and maybe two months after it became inevitable. “We know that you’re frustrated and disappointed, and rightly so. We know that you’ve been getting the business for being a Bears fan when you go to the grocery store or church or [you’re] picking up the kids, wherever, because we’re getting it, too. This has taken longer than any of us expected, but we appreciate your support.”

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They’ve been getting the business because of the way the Bears have handled theirs. But that won’t change anytime soon, as the Bears have made zero changes to their front-office structure.

McCaskey and president Ted Phillips said general manager Ryan Pace will make the final decision on whom the Bears hire to replace Fox. Both painted themselves as support staff for Pace — McCaskey said he’d be a “devil’s advocate” and “sounding board” — though Phillips maintained Pace will be the one checking references, even as McCaskey and Phillips fly with him and help him interview candidates.

The Bears are set to interview Eagles quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo by Sunday night because his team has a first-round playoff bye. They’ll have to wait until next week to talk to Panthers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks, whose team plays Sunday.

Phillips is entering his 19th season as the president; the Bears are 18 games under .500 during that time. Before 1999, he was the Bears’ controller, director of finance and vice president of operations.

“I think my years in this league, I’ve been around a lot of different head coaches,” Phillips said. “Sharing ideas. We have a real collaborative environment here, so Ryan and I have a great relationship, along with George as well.”

Pace reports directly to Phillips, who took credit for initiating talks on Pace’s two-year contract extension through 2021, which was finalized Monday. That extension would allow both the coach and GM to be on equal footing with contract length when the new coach, whomever he may be, gets a four-year contract.

Pace will have the power to negotiate the terms of the next coach’s deal, McCaskey said. The Bears won’t be hampered in their search by having to pay the final year of Fox’s contract.

“We’ll be competitive,” McCaskey said, “and we’ll get the right guy for the Bears.”

McCaskey said the decision to fire Fox was Pace’s alone, but that he supported it.

“Thank you to all the players, coaches, the city of Chicago and Bears fans everywhere — your passion for the game and this team is unmatched in the NFL,” Fox said in a statement. “[Monday] is the tough part of our results-oriented business, but I wish the Bears organization the best for years to come.”

The Bears have fired three coaches in the last five years. Pace’s hire of Fox in 2015 was complicated by the fact that McCaskey and Phillips had begun the coaching search, with the help of consultant Ernie Accorsi, before Pace was ever hired. This time, his decisions are more nuanced; he said he’s undecided on what role quarterback Mitch Trubisky will have in the search.

It’s Pace’s show now — even if his bosses will be hovering.

“When you hire a general manager, you hire him to be your leader on football operations,” Phillips said. “I think we’re going to end up with the right candidate, given our roster, who’s going to lead us and hopefully have success right away.”

If not, Pace will be in trouble, extension or not. His bosses might not be. They’ve survived mistakes

“I think the longer you’re in this, like anybody, you get better at your job with more experience,” Pace said. “And I think the more familiar you are with the inner workings of our building and our roster, the more confident I am in that.”

Follow me on Twitter

@patrickfinley.

Email: pfinley@suntimes.com

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