Bears GM Ryan Poles ‘having a blast’ in first 2 months on the job
It’s been a surreal experience for Poles at the NFL’s annual meeting as he takes a semi-break. “It is good to relax a little bit, but your brain’s always going,” he says.
PALM BEACH, Fla. — This will be the closest Ryan Poles comes to taking a break in the two months since taking the most high-pressure job in Chicago sports: fixing the wayward Bears.
Decades of mediocrity cloud the sky above Halas Hall, but Poles is a world away from that at the NFL’s annual meeting. He’s got an ocean view at the palatial, 1920s-styled Breakers resort, and while it’s a business trip, it’s the best possible business trip.
Another meeting just ended, and walking into a room full of head coaches and fellow general managers knowing he’s now their peer felt surreal to Poles. He’s a little dazed that Steelers coach Mike Tomlin knew his name and stopped to say hi.
There are many adjustments like this when you’re 36 and have spent your career working in the background.
The work, though, is nothing new. Studying film, crunching salary-cap numbers and debating personnel are in Poles’ comfort zone. Still, he’s been at it nonstop since late January and could use a few days out of the office.
“It is good to relax a little bit, but your brain’s always going,” Poles told the Sun-Times, leaning forward in his chair in the lobby. “Free agency is still going on... We have all of our scouts on the road doing pro days, feeding me information.
“So your brain never stops. It is good to slow down just for a minute, but there’s a lot going on.”
He’s not as busy as his wife Katie, he admits.
She’s been back in Kansas City balancing their two children’s school and sports schedules. She’s more than earned a vacation. She’s free all day — a luxury more lavish than The Breakers itself. As the surest sign yet that Poles has sound judgment, they left the kids with his parents and sister.
As his family finishes the school year, Poles is absorbed in a task that appears to be a demolition of the flawed structure he inherited. The boldest part of his teardown so far was trading star Khalil Mack for draft picks. Once he’s done cleaning up, he aspires to build something magnificent with the enticing supply of cap space and draft picks awaiting him next year.
He hired Eagles executive Ian Cunningham as assistant general manager, and they rented a place together. The alarm goes off at 5:15 a.m., they’re out the door within 15 minutes and they hit Starbucks on the way to work. After a quick workout, they parse their plans for the Bears until about 11 p.m.
“It’s stressful, not a lot of sleep, but I often stop the meetings and make sure everyone realizes this is what we call ‘work,’ and it’s enjoyable,” he said. “I never go to work feeling like it’s work. ... I’m having a blast.”
That’s partly because he has yet to feel the furnace blast of pressure that will come if things go poorly as they usually do for the Bears.
Their recent futility isn’t Poles’ fault, but it lingers nonetheless. He hit that head-on Day 1, when he announced his intent to wrest the NFC North from the Packers.
“The big thing for me, and everyone will get to know this over time: I care,” he said. “I know how much the Bears mean to Chicago. It’s a lot of responsibility.
“But I just want to do a really good job for the city. I want them to be able to go to their games on Sunday and just have a blast. There’s pressure with that, but that motivates me.”
He got a reminder of the stakes in that meeting Sunday with NFL coaches and general managers. While it felt cool to finally be in that sphere, it struck Poles that those faces change every year.
Getting through the door is one thing. Returning is another.
“There’s people that come and go,” he said soberly. “You want to be one of those fixtures that have been there for a long time. With success and winning, that’s how you stay in the room.”