By Rick Telander
Maybe the Bears got this right.
How nice it would be if new general manager Ryan Pace turns out to be the man who turns around a clogged, family-bloated franchise and makes the Bears into a sleek, winning, modern NFL club.
Pace, who spent 14 years with the New Orleans Saints, the last two as director of player personnel, has never been a GM before and, at 37, is now the youngest in the league to hold that title.
Young guys can be hip, smart and full of enthusiasm and grand, innovative ideas. Or they can be naïve, overaggressive and uncertain, with little grasp of the difficulties involved in building something complex that involves many people and will be scrutinized like nothing the executive has done before.
We can only hope Pace is the former.
That he comes without strings attached to the Bears’ operation — except, no doubt, rooting for the Bears while playing defensive end for Eastern Illinois from 1995 to 1999 — would seem to be an excellent thing.
Go outside your small sphere of knowledge when your historic business is foundering. That’s what chairman George McCaskey and his president-sidekick Ted Phillips have done here, maybe because matriarch Virginia McCaskey is, as has been well-noted, ‘‘pissed off.’’
Who knows if Pace is the guy who holds the magic formula for this underachieving 5-11 team? He is untried, as callow as a baby bird, but his credentials are impressive. Start with the praise from Bob Spoo, his old coach at Eastern Illinois:
‘‘What a quality young man. That’s my best recollection — just a super young man. Integrity. Personality. . Just a tremendous person.’’
Yeah, coaches will say all their former players are great guys, but they seldom heap praise like that. Because if they’re wrong, it will come back to bite them.
Pace was with the Saints when they won a Super Bowl that helped bring spirit back to the hurricane-ravaged bayou country. And he was with them through the pay-to-hurt-foes Bountygate affair, after which coach Sean Payton was suspended a year, even though some player sanctions made by commissioner Roger Goodell were overruled by former commissioner Paul Tagliabue in the appeals process.
Said Tagliabue in his final report: ‘‘This sad chapter in the otherwise praiseworthy history of the New Orleans Saints casts no executive, coach or player in a favorable light.”
Well, Pace was an executive. Bountygate might have been a learning experience you couldn’t get in school, couldn’t get anywhere. Let’s hope Pace learned from it.
The thing I like most about Pace is that he seems smart and ambitious. In 2008, he was selected by the Saints to attend the Stanford Business School’s NFL-Stanford Executive Education Program for managers, a weeklong educational seminar in Palo Alto, California, that is a prep course for potential executives, as well as an honor.
Sessions included topics such as “Foundations of Team Effectiveness,” “What Makes a Great Executive in the Sports Industry,” “Negotiation Strategies and Tactics” and “The Future of Football.”
We hope. Because smart and ambitious don’t always equal success. You need luck, and you need support, too.
One thing the Bears got right, for sure, was hiring a GM before a coach. The coach hiring has to be done by the man above, the GM. The structure must stay in place.
It’s rumored that the seeming front-runner for the GM job, the Chiefs’ Chris Ballard, might have been too concerned about the Bears’ organizational structure and not worried enough about simply building a winner.
Who knows? We’ll find out a lot more at 11 a.m. Friday at Halas Hall when Pace greets the Chicago media for the first time.
What’s his plan? Who’s his coach going to be? What becomes of Jay Cutler? Does he remember winter blizzards?
Seriously, anybody who says he or she knows whether Pace will succeed is lying. The vast majority of GMs never get their team to a Super Bowl. That’s how it goes.
New Orleans writers have said that Pace has worked hard but mostly ‘‘flown under the radar.’’ I’ll say. According to Sports Illustrated, Pace didn’t even have a Wikipedia page until an hour after the Bears hired him Thursday afternoon.
Is a Wikipedia page important? No. But these are modern times.
And Pace is here to lead the Bears out of the darkness and into the light.