It was more than a little disconcerting that Bears president Ted Phillips was the one who introduced the new general manager at a news conference Friday, in the way it would be disconcerting if a weed introduced what was supposed to be weed killer.
But everyone involved went out of his way to insist that Ryan Pace would have final say in all football decisions, including the 53-man roster and the choosing of the next head coach. They all said that Phillips, who told assembled media members that “we’’ had found the right person for the GM job, would go back to his adding machine.
Against all reason, I’m going to take it on faith that Phillips and chairman George McCaskey will fade to the background soon. Someone take my temperature.
That leaves us with … Ryan Pace. Scary? Absolutely. Giving that much responsibility to a person most of us had never heard of until a week ago should be frightening. But I’ll take frightened over disgusted. Pace’s hiring was a medium-sized victory for those of us who thought the Bears would choose someone with ties to Halas Hall – which is to say ties to a place that has been estranged from success for decades.
My preference would have been a general manager who had actually been a general manager before, but the Bears don’t work that way. They work small and cheap, which is why all four of their candidates were going for their first GM job.
The Bears say they didn’t consciously take points away from finalist Chris Ballard for having been a Bears’ employee for 12 years, but it doesn’t matter how they moved in Pace’s direction instead. What matters is that they have a fresh face uncorrupted by the bizarreness that has gone on regularly at Halas, even though doctors believe the bizarreness might be contagious.
And this most certainly is a fresh face. If there was one thing that stood out from Friday’s news conference, it was the earnestness of the 37-year-old Pace. He is not Phil Emery and his reading glasses. He’s a man with a vision, based almost exclusively on his 14 years with the Saints, most recently as their director of player personnel. The only thing missing were some “golly gees.’’
The former Eastern Illinois defensive end said many of the right things, though it should be noted that Emery and former general manager Jerry Angelo both had said they would build through the draft. What they built was a funeral pyre.
Pace said he wants to spend time getting to know Jay Cutler before coming to any conclusions on the quarterback, but all he has to do is watch the tape. And then trade him.
He said the Bears need to get back to running the ball and playing good defense. An obvious thing, but something that was lost on the previous administration.
Pace’s admirers describe him as meticulous. Just know that all the people who do these jobs are detail-oriented and borderline obsessive. So if Pace works long hours and has a permanent case of eyestrain, that makes him like everybody else, Emery included. The important thing is what he does with that obsessiveness. Victories on Sundays are all that matter.
“From the moment I walked into the building and I met George and I met Ted, I could just feel it,’’ Pace said. “I’m telling you I feel it here. This is going to be set up to win and sustain success. I’m excited about it.’’
Bears fans should be hopeful, but they need to keep in mind that this could be a two- or three-year project, thanks to the missteps of the previous GMs.
Pace’s first big job will be getting the right head coach. Again, I’ll feel a lot better if the Bears hire a proven NFL head coach, but they haven’t had someone like that since Abraham Lincoln was in second grade. Pace said he’ll add to the list of Bears coaching candidates that consultant Ernie Accorsi has compiled, but he wouldn’t name names. He was light on specifics in general, but that would make sense. No need to show your hand now. A “Cutler Makes Me Drink” T-shirt would have made me feel a lot better, however.
Back to disconcerting: Even though Pace said he has final say on naming the next coach, he did mention that choosing one would be a “group effort’’ among him, McCaskey, Accorsi and Phillips. Uh-oh.
And Phillips did say that Pace would report directly to him.