Bears interview Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren for president job

The Bears have interviewed Big Ten comissioner Kevin Warren, who is considered a finalist for their soon-to-be vacant president/CEO position, a source confirmed Thursday.

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The Bears have interviewed Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren for their president job.

The Bears have interviewed Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren for their president job.

Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The Bears have interviewed Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren, considered a finalist for their soon-to-be vacant president/CEO position, a source confirmed Thursday.

Before joining the Big Ten in 2019, Warren was the Vikings’ chief operating officer when they built U.S. Bank Stadium. Some at Halas Hall consider that stadium, which opened in 2016, to be the ideal blueprint for a possible new Bears stadium in Arlington Heights.

The Bears are in escrow on the former Arlington International Racecourse, a 326-acre property, and hope to close on it in early 2023, right around the time president/CEO Ted Phillips steps down Feb. 28. They want to build a stadium alongside hotels, restaurants and shops.

Phillips announced in September that he planned on retiring after 23 years in his role. The Bears are expected to hire his replacement before then so he can help with the transition.

Phillips himself has been involved in the search. Chairman George McCaskey, Phillips and Tanesha Wade, the Bears’ senior vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion, have been interviewing candidates with search firm Nolan Partners.

“We have not set a timeline for announcing Ted Phillips’ successor,” the Bears said in a statement. “Our search team has cast a wide net, spoken to many outstanding candidates and looks forward to introducing our next president and CEO at the process’ conclusion.”

Warren, the first African American to become a Power Five college commissioner, postponed the 2020 Big Ten football season because of the coronavirus. He faced pushback from, among others, then-Ohio State star Justin Fields, who’s now the Bears’ quarterback. Fields started a petition to proceed with football and other fall sports. A month later, the Big Ten did just that.

Six months ago, Warren led a paradigm-shifting expansion of the league. UCLA and USC will leave the Pac-12 for the Big Ten, which is based in Rosemont, in 2024.

In August, Warren also signed a landmark media-rights deal.

In a statement, the Big Ten said Warren “regularly receives unique opportunities and interest for his expertise” and “uses each occurrence to listen, learn and assist every stakeholder.”

A 1990 graduate of Notre Dame Law School, Warren served as an agent (his first client was former Bears defensive tackle Chris Zorich) before joining the Rams as legal counsel in 1997. He was named the Lions’ senior vice president of business operations and general counsel in 2001. In 2005, after a two-year stint with a law firm, he joined the Vikings, where he stayed for 14 years. He was named their COO in 2015.

Warren would represent a considerable shift in philosophy for the Bears simply by coming from outside Halas Hall. Phillips is only the fourth president in Bears history and the first who wasn’t related to founder George Halas. Son “Mugs” Halas held the job after “Papa Bear,” followed by grandson Michael McCaskey, whom Phillips replaced after serving as controller from 1983 to ’87, finance director from ’87 to ’93 and vice president of operations from ’93 to ’99.

Phillips said in September he was open to sticking around in a consulting role.

“It’s hard to say no when you’ve been somewhere for 40 years,” he told the Sun-Times.

George McCaskey said then that the Bears had no plans to restructure with a football czar. Rather, they wanted someone to do what Phillips did: run business operations. Phillips said he planned to “explain all the ins and outs” of the stadium issue to his successor.

McCaskey also said in September he didn’t necessarily need a president with experience building a stadium — hoping that person would be able to hire someone with that expertise. He didn’t show a preference for a football background, either.

“Leadership, vision, humility, consensus-building,” McCaskey said. “You look at the qualities of outstanding leaders, and we think we’re going to be able to bring in an exceptional candidate to succeed Ted and lead the Bears.”

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