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Ex-Bills coach Doug Marrone (left, with Bill Belichick) was the Saints’ offensive coordinator when Ryan Pace was director of pro scouting.

New Bears GM Ryan Pace’s first challenge: Hiring the right coach

SHARE New Bears GM Ryan Pace’s first challenge: Hiring the right coach
SHARE New Bears GM Ryan Pace’s first challenge: Hiring the right coach

Ryan Pace’s first order of business as general manager was something he has never done before — hire a coach.

Not long after getting the job, he was interviewing Todd Bowles, the 51-year-old defensive coordinator of the Cardinals, for the Bears’ coaching job.

Welcome to the big leagues, kid.

Like just about every other newly hired general manager in the NFL, Pace comes with a sterling reputation as an evaluator of talent. But it’s his ability to evaluate people that will separate him from others. Can he hire the right guy? Can he fire the wrong guy? Can he hire people who know how to hire people? That’s how you sustain success in the NFL. Because if Pace is any good at this job, he’s going to lose people. And then we’ll really find out how good he is.

But first things first. Pace’s first big decision will be the most critical — a coach. Though he has never done that before, the good news is that he’s at least going to get the opportunity from Day 1 on the job. Jerry Angelo didn’t. Neither did Phil Emery.

All the big decisions come quickly. As a 37-year-old GM, should he hire a coach with NFL experience? Should he hire the first guy he likes? Should he hire somebody he knows? Should he wait for a coach who might not be available until after the Super Bowl?

He’ll have all sorts of options. Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase is the son-in-law of Saints assistant Joe Vitt, whom Pace worked with in New Orleans. Former Bills coach Doug Marrone was the offensive coordinator with the Saints from 2006 to ’08. Bowles or Sea-hawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn could give the Bears the defensive boost they’re looking for. Mike Shanahan, apparently eager for the job, shares Eastern Illinois roots. And Rex Ryan is still out there. Can Pace even hire him if he wanted to? We’ll see just how much power Pace has soon enough.

Either way, the Bears at least are in better shape than when they hired Emery in 2012. Emery wasn’t hired until after the Senior Bowl and inherited Lovie Smith as coach. It couldn’t have worked out much worse — with Smith getting fired after one season, leading to an awkward transition in the locker room that made Marc Trestman’s job way too difficult for him to handle.

Pace, who has a degree in marketing and was selected for the NFL-Stanford Executive Education Program for managers in 2008, has a huge advantage in being able to hire his own guy — assuming that’s what he gets to do. It’s up to him to make the most of it.

“There has to be a comfort zone with the general manager selecting the coach,” said Bob Harlan, the ex-Packers executive who hired two pretty good GMs in Ron Wolf and Ted Thompson. “They’ve got to work together, and I found out that the GM has to be comfortable with that coach — that it’s his guy, that he’s made the selection, or he’s not going to be very happy.”

In other words, now that chairman George McCaskey and president Ted Phillips have hired Pace, their job is to get the hell out of the way and let Pace do his job. If their anything more than consultants, this is unlikely to end well.

“Everybody else stayed out of football decisions,” Harlan said. “ I promised Ron [Wolf] full autonomy and he had it. I promised Ted full autonomy and he’s got it to this day. And that’s it.

“The general manager makes the football decisions. The coach reports to him. The general manager came to me when he had concerns and let me know what he’s doing. Ron said, ‘I’m going to let [Lindy] Infante go. He’s got years on his contract. Are you all right with that?’ I said absolutely. Same thing with the trade for Brett Favre [for] a No. 1 draft choice. We had to put the order in place and I found out it’s got to be the general manager first.’’

Email: mpotash@suntimes.com

Twitter: @MarkPotash

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