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Perfect match? John Fox-Ryan Pace relationship key to Bears' hopes

Bears head coach John Fox, 59, hugs his boss, 37-year-old general manager Ryan Pace, at Monday's press conference introducing Fox as the 15th head coach in team history.

Bears general manager Ryan Pace said he doesn’t even know if John Fox has the contractual authority to hire his own coordinators.

“Honestly, I don’t even know if it’s in his contract. We talked about it,” Pace said. “We’re working on that together. He’s choosing his coaching staff, but he’s taking a lot of input from me.”

Whether it’s hiring coordinators or putting together a 53-man roster, the collaborative effort between a general manager and head coach is a tightrope in the NFL, where every team is working without a net. It hinges on a relationship that is a thing of beauty when it works and an unsightly and awkward disaster when it doesn’t.

And both Pace and Fox know it.

“It’s paramount — maybe the most important relationship in an NFL building,” Fox said Monday during his introductory press conference at Halas Hall.

“That’s one of my strengths; and [from] everything I know about [Fox] that’s one of his strengths, too — working relationships, communication. I’m not really concerned about that at all.

“If there are things going wrong with that, then there’s issues. We can point to some teams where that has been an issue and those are the teams that faltered. The strong teams n the NFL — the Green Bays [Ted Thompson/Mike McCarthy], the Seattles [John Schneider/Pete Carroll], the New Orleans [Mickey Loomis/Sean Payton] — those are teams where there’s a strong relationship between the GM and the coach. And that’s what we’re going to have.”

The Bears are a step ahead of the game, just by having a coach who was hired by the general manager. Even in the best organizations, things can go awry when the GM and coach aren’t on the same page. When Packers GM Ted Thompson — one of the best in the business — inherited Mike Sherman in 2005, the Packers struggled at 4-12. Things didn’t change for the Packers until Thompson hired his guy — Mike McCarthy.

“He’s got to have his own guy and he’s got to be comfortable with him,” said former Packers president Bob Harlan, who hired Ron Wolf in 1991 and Thompson in 2005. “Ted waited a long time before he accepted Mike Sherman … but it didn’t work out. I used to go to practice — not to watch practice, but to watch those two on the field. And I’d see Ted talking to Mike Sherman and Mike Sherman’s looking the other way like he’s not interested. At the end of the year when Ted came to me and said he was going to make a change. I said, ‘Absolutely.’”

So what are the odds that 37-year-old Ryan Pace found his NFL soul mate on his first try?

“I’m confident in my judge of character,” Pace said. “We’ve worked with a ton of the same people — a ton of people that know me very well and know him very well. I feel really good about it.”

Pace said the main go-between was Payton, who was the offensive coordinator with the Giants when Fox was the defensive coordinator. To Pace, Payton’s recommendation was as good as gold.

“First of all, he’s a winner,” Pace said. “He’s intelligent. Guys want to play hard for him. Discipline. There’s specific things with our personalities — ‘Hey, I want to have high energy; let’s have fun; let’s win games; be positive.’ I love that about John Fox.”

That sounds great, but Fox’s endorsement of Pace is the key to the whole thing. The 59-year-old Fox is a known quantity. The 37-year-old Pace is a first-time general manager who has worked for only one NFL team in his life. Fox could have stayed out of football for a year and jumped back in next year. That he instead agreed to coach the Bears says a lot about Ryan Pace.

“I try to surround myself with passionate people. This young man [Pace], I don’t care about age. He’s smart, he’s honest, he’s all the things I look for in a guy I want to be in the trenches with. I’m excited about that. I think we can both help each other and that’s what this is about, pulling people together.”

We’ll see how it works in practice as the Bears hire all-important coordinators and make key personnel decisions in free agency and the draft. When it works well, the defined authority doesn’t seem to matter — coaches Bill Belichick, Pete Carroll and Sean Payton have final say on their 53-man rosters; GM Ted Thompson has it in Green Bay. It works for all of them because they get along with their dance partner. It’s a friendship as much as a relationship.

“I understand the importance of the get-along factor of that relationship,” Fox said, “and I’m very, very excited about that.”

The dynamic of a 37-year-old GM and a 59-year-old head coach is not the norm. But if the chemistry is right, it has a lot of potential.

“I really believe [Fox is] the best man for the job,” Pace said. “That he’s about to turn 60 — there’s a lot of benefits with that, don’t get me wrong — but I look at John Fo as being my age. He has a youthful personality and I think it’s great because he has the experience … the energy, so it’s a perfect combination.”