Back in 2015, George McCaskey was trying to clean up a gigantic mess left behind by previous GM Phil Emery. The Chicago Bears were in shambles, featuring an old and overpaid roster with loads of cancerous personalities. They needed somebody to come in and conduct repairs. The man they settled on proved to be a surprise for many. New Orleans Saints director of pro personnel Ryan Pace.
On the surface, it seemed like a calculated risk. Pace was part of a front office that had resurrected the Saints into Super Bowl champions back in 2009. They were perennial playoff contenders with a young, deep roster. There was a lingering concern though. Pace was young. Really young. By far the young GM in the NFL at that point. Some worried whether he’d been a personnel director long enough. Just two years. Still, McCaskey liked the vision he had for the Bears. So the hire was made.
Details were always a bit scarce about that.
Now with Pace fired after seven seasons, more have surfaced. In a terrific in-depth piece by Adam Jahns and Kevin Fishbain of The Athletic, they revealed new tidbits on what exactly happened. First, there was Chris Ballard. Most considered the former Bears scout and then-Chiefs director of player personnel the heavy favorite for the GM job that year. He seemed to be an easy choice, but then completely fell out of the running. There were two key reasons why.
Ballard, a former Bears scout, appeared to be an easy-decision hire. But sources said Ballard had two requests: 1. He wanted to report directly to McCaskey instead of going through Phillips, and 2. He wanted to move on from Cutler. Ballard was offering the franchise an opportunity for a reboot, but the Bears didn’t want to take it, choosing to go with Pace instead. One source suggested that Ballard’s ties with Angelo and Emery hurt his case, that the team wanted a “fresh start” from the past.
The great irony here is McCaskey seems to have made one of the changes Ballard requested. The general manager will report directly to ownership moving forward. One can also understand the Cutler angle. The quarterback hadn’t accomplished nearly enough considering what the Bears were paying him. However, the McCaskeys probably still believed in him and also didn’t want to eat all the money from dumping his contract.
The best part though came when it was revealed how rigged the interview process was from the start. Enough to where it was no accident Pace got the job.
“That thing stunk,” a former employee said. “It’s a good ol’ boy thing. Ryan Pace was a recommendation from (Saints GM) Mickey Loomis. Loomis and Ted are tight. (Saints coach) Sean Payton wanted Pace to be GM. Accorsi and Payton are connected. There was a reason Pace interviewed last.”
This shows how little McCaskey had to do with Ryan Pace hiring
Sure he’s the owner and he signed off on it, but the picture is painted pretty clearly. It was a combination of Ted Phillips and Ernie Accorsi that made it happen. They were the ones pulling the strings. This is a big reason why so many close to the Bears organization are skeptical of the current GM search. He wants everybody to think he is the one in control but most can see right through that. This is really the Bill Polian show. The Hall of Fame executive was brought in as a consultant similar to Accorsi in 2015.
It is evident McCaskey is leaning on him heavily in this process. All one has to do is look at the list of candidates. Many of them either have ties to Polian directly or to organizations he has worked for such as Indianapolis and Buffalo. Now, this isn’t a bad thing. Polian knows his stuff. It is just difficult to trust that this interview process is as wide open as it seems. Ryan Pace had the inside lane from the start seven years ago.
Maybe it’s the same thing this time around too.
Reports are Browns VP of player personnel Glenn Cook made a strong impression during his interview with the team. He got his start in scouting back in 2011 with the Colts. Polian’s last year with the organization. In these sorts of situations, there is no such thing as coincidence. There is a real chance that the Bears already know who they’re going to hire. It is just about letting the facade play out. Here is hoping that isn’t the case.