Bears

Five takeaways from new Chicago Bears president Kevin Warren’s introductory news conference

New Chicago Bears President & CEO Kevin Warren speaks after being introduced at a news conference, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023.  at Halas Hall in Lake Forest.

LAKE FOREST – Kevin Warren made his first public appearance at Halas Hall on Tuesday. The new Bears president and CEO won’t officially take over his new position until spring, but the Bears introduced him with a news conference at the team’s Lake Forest headquarters.

Warren will take over the Bears’ business operations after three years as the commissioner of the Big Ten Conference. He takes over for retiring team president Ted Phillips.

Warren has previous experience running the business side for the Minnesota Vikings. He worked in NFL front offices for two decades before taking the top job at the Big Ten. Warren’s exact start date is still in question.

“I can tell you in my mind I’ve started,” Warren said.

Here are five takeaways from Tuesday’s news conference.

1. Warren is here to change the culture

Warren’s father always told him to leave a place better than he found it. Warren believes he’s doing that when he leaves the Big Ten this spring. He added two premier schools in UCLA and USC. He guided the conference through the COVID-19 pandemic. He brokered a record-setting TV deal.

Now, he’s ready for a new challenge. The Bears, a once-great organization that hasn’t been on top in about four decades, present just that challenge.

Warren said his first order of business is to meet with everyone who works for the team, from the chairman to the janitor.

“What can we do to help you on a daily basis?” Warren said. “Tell me one thing that we can change to make this an incredible place.”

Before winning the Super Bowl with the Rams, coach Dick Vermeil once told Warren that everyone’s Super Bowl ring looks the same, no matter what their contribution to the team was. Vermeil predicted that once everyone in the organization realized they had the same goal, the results would come.

And they did.

“You’ve got to recognize when you build a house you build the basement first,” Warren said. “So when you drive by a house and you don’t see any progress above land, that doesn’t meant that building is not going on.”

2. Poles will report to Warren, not McCaskey

The Bears made a change to their organizational structure a year ago. When they hired Ryan Poles as general manager and top football decision maker, they determined Poles would report to team chairman George McCaskey, not team president Ted Phillips. Previously the GM had reported to Phillips.

Now, with Warren as president, the GM will once again report to the team president. McCaskey has been very clear that he is not a football evaluator. He trusts Poles with football decisions, and he now trusts Warren to be a mentor to Poles.

“When we assessed Kevin’s strengths as an executive, it just made perfect sense to me,” McCaskey said.

While the vast majority of Warren’s experience in the NFL is on the business side, he spent his early years with the St. Louis Rams (from 1997-2000) focused on player programs and football administrations. He also previously was a player agent.

“One of the things I’ve learned is when you build a championship culture, the questions and the ideal and the thought process of who has the final say in all that really becomes irrelevant,” Warren said. “When we come out of whatever room we’re in, we have the common goal.”

3. The Bears remain focused solely on Arlington Heights

Renderings of a potential Soldier Field renovation circulated on the internet last week, but the Bears remain focused solely on Arlington Heights. The goal remains to close on the Arlington Heights property by the end of the first quarter of 2023.

McCaskey would not comment further on the stadium situation. Warren, who lives in Chicago already as Big Ten commissioner, drove out to the property recently.

“It has some different unique factors,” Warren said of the land. “One is the space. You don’t get many times to have over 300 acres close to the city. ... I know our focus will be to making sure that we close on the land. And again, like I said early on, be very methodical to make sure that we get that process done first.”

Warren noted that whatever the Bears end up doing, they’re going to do it the right way. Warren was heavily involved with the plans for U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. McCaskey said that was a nice bonus, but not the sole reason the Bears hired Warren.

4. The Bears cast a wide net

McCaskey said the Bears interviewed more than 20 candidates for the job. A search firm called Nolan Partners helped the Bears identify candidates. McCaskey declined to name any of the other finalists. The process took roughly six months to get to this point.

Phillips will remain on the job for a little while longer while Warren helps the Big Ten transition. The goal is for Warren to start sometime in April.

With Warren’s hiring, the Bears now have a Black president, a Black GM and a Black assistant GM. McCaskey has set about creating one of the most diverse front offices in football, and that will continue under Warren. He and the Big Ten took a delegation of student-athletes to Selma last year.

“Creating an environment with diverse thoughts, that people can come together, that you can share your thoughts and we can get better – I’ll always be a proponent of that in my life and here at work,” Warren said.

5. Poles can learn from Warren

Poles is excited to pick the brain of his new boss. Poles said that he and Warren first connected when Poles began doing general manager interviews. Warren gave him some tips on what team presidents might be looking for in a GM.

That collaboration will continue now that they are in the same organization.

“Everyone’s got blind spots and when you have someone from a different background that’s been through a couple different organizations they can give you a little bit of information if maybe there’s a blind spot that you didn’t see,” Poles said.

Warren wants to “make it OK to talk about winning a championship” at Halas Hall. If people within the organization don’t put that front and center in their minds, it will never happen.

“I’m not interested in building something that lasts for a year then goes away,” Warren said. “I want to have sustainability from a long-term standpoint and then from a business operational standpoint, just to look for efficiencies, continually create ideas and ways, be innovative, have vision, and be fearless.”

Sean Hammond

Sean Hammond

Sean is the Chicago Bears beat reporter for Shaw Media. He also contributes to high school football coverage at Friday Night Drive. Sean has covered various sports at the amateur, college and professional levels since 2012. He joined Shaw Media in 2016.