Phil Emery, 53, never pictured himself standing at a podium wearing a suit and tie and conducting a news conference as a team’s new general manager.
Throughout his career – whether in Mt. Pleasant, Mich., Georgetown, Ky., Silver City, N.M., Atlanta or Kansas City – Emery focused on the job at hand, always placing team above self.
“This is one of his strengths,” Bears chairman George McCaskey said. “He keeps talking about team. He has the authority, but he isn’t going to wield that authority just for the sake of doing so. He’s going to make sure that everyone is moving forward.”
And the Bears have a mighty gap to close in the NFC North. Although neither the Green Bay Packers nor the Detroit Lions won a playoff game, they boast younger, deeper rosters than the Bears.
It’s impossible to project how Emery will fare as the Bears’ fifth general manager, but his history shows he’s a tireless worker and a fearless leader who isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty.
So while team president Ted Phillips was impressed with ÂEmery’s immersion in the “Patriot Way,” he also was impressed with his myriad experiences as a coach, administrator and even professor.
“His whole collective life experiences have formed him to be a lot more than just a talent evaluator,” said Phillips, who spearheaded the GM search. “He’s definitely bringing leadership, administrative skills, and he understands coaches.”
Emery doesn’t have pedigree. He played at Wayne State, and he coached at several smaller colleges before becoming an assistant strength and conditioning coach at Tennessee in 1987.
“Part of when you go to a small school that’s an out-of-the-way place that nobody else has ever heard of,” Emery said, “is that you have to wear a lot of hats.”
At Western New Mexico, for instance, his title was offensive line and strength and conditioning coach. But Emery’s responsibilities also included equipment manager, overseeing the defensive scout team, lining the fields, exchanging film with other schools and even arranging travel plans.
The latter might have been the most taxing of all.
The school’s closest opponent was nine hours away. The team sometimes left Silver City on Wednesday for a game Saturday.
Yet he always learned something along the way. At the U.S. Naval Academy, he recognized the “spirit of people,” an understanding not to place limitations or pigeon-hole individuals. He recalled how the Midshipmen didn’t have any business, based on talent alone, of being competitive with a football program such as Notre Dame.
“When people are focused on goals and they want to be part of a team bad enough and part of something positive and win, and they have the will to do those things, sometimes the impossible is achieved,” Emery said. “I saw that time after time after time.”
Phillips said that humble approach was appealing, along with Emery’s presence and vision.
“You have that inclusiveness where you can listen to people, take their input, then make the Âdecision that is best for the team. He can do that,” Phillips said.
Phillips said that the New England Patriots’ philosophy on scouting was something the Bears wanted. That’s a departure from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ system former general manager Jerry Angelo and Tim Ruskell – who was relieved of his duties as player personnel director Monday – came from.
Jason Licht, the Patriots’ director of pro personnel, was the other finalist.
“I’ll just say this: Their system is more geared toward the fit [of the player] on your team,” Phillips said. “And there is a consistent grading between college and pro. And it was fascinating to hear some of the details of that. So it wasn’t coincidental that they both had that similar system and they were the two final candidates.”
But Phillips resisted any notion that Emery, who was with the Bears from 1998 to 2004, was hired because of his history with the club.
“He was an area scout back then,” Phillips said. “Saw him a couple of weeks a year. Didn’t really know Phil. The familiarity wasn’t really a big factor.”
But Phillips and McCaskey emphasized that Emery will be empowered to lead the franchise, making whatever changes – with the exception of firing coach Lovie Smith in 2012 – he deems fit.
“Someone asked if it’s going to be status quo,” Phillips said. “I would say absolutely not. He’s going to set high standards, and he’s going to be demanding and hold people accountable, and I like that.”