The Bears have ‘complete faith’ in Ted Phillips, who gets to help pick another GM

Before chairman George McCaskey said the words “Ryan Pace,” “Matt Nagy” or even “Bears” on Monday, he mentioned Ted Phillips. In fact, it was his first significant order of business, after a polite greeting and before launching into his prepared comments.

“Good afternoon, everyone,” he said. “Thank you for being on the call. I’m sorry that we can’t meet in person. Ted Phillips is also on the call …”

Close your eyes, and you imagine what it will sound like to be in a Zoom meeting for the Bears’ general manager opening. Phillips, the once-and-future president/CEO, was on the call – of course he was – even as McCaskey tried to sell a “modified organizational structure” as real change.

It’s not, of course. The Bears’ next general manager will report directly to McCaskey instead of to Phillips, who will be preoccupied with the team’s Arlington Heights stadium site.

The next seven days, though, will be no different than it was seven years ago: Phillips will take part in interviewing and helping McCaskey pick the next general manager. He’ll even negotiate the contract with him. And once that’s done, Phillips will still be McCaskey’s most trusted advisor, holding the same position he’s had since 1999. The Bears have won three playoff games — three! – during that time.

“I have great respect for his judgment, his analytical skills, his instincts when it comes to the people that we’re interviewing,” McCaskey said.

McCaskey said Phillips has done “an outstanding job as president and CEO.” Also, for good measure: “Our family has complete faith in him.”

Bears fans grimaced. Those that hoped for a dramatically different structure – the hiring of a president of football operations, who’d then pick the general manager – will have to keep waiting.

The Bears “did talk about what was the best path forward,” McCaskey conceded, but preferred to stick with the idea of the general manager being the highest-ranking “football guy” at Halas Hall.

“I don’t think there’s anything magical about a so-called football czar,” McCaskey said. “At some point, the football person, whether it’s the general manager or an executive vice president or a president of football operations, at some point that person has to report to ownership. We think with the modification that we’ve made, we’ve got the right structure for the Bears going forward.”

How exactly that plays out, McCaskey can’t say.

“I haven’t had a general manager report to me, so I’ve got a lot to learn in that regard,” he said. “And am counting on the new general manager to help me along in that process.”

Not exactly encouraging.

Phillips is a competent businessman, but his presence in end-of-season press conferences – as a surrogate McCaskey – have made him a symbol of stagnation to many Bears fans. It doesn’t help when he says things like he did last year.

“Have we gotten the quarterback situation completely right? No. Have we won enough games? No,” he said then. “Everything else is there.”

Is it still?

“Well clearly we weren’t happy with the results,” Phillips said Monday. “So, we need to get better. And I think as George pointed out, … the fact that the general manager is going to report to him, which is a big change.”

It’s not. Not in terms of hiring.

It’s no different than the end of the 2014 season when McCaskey, Phillips and 73-year-old advisor Ernie Accorsi interviewed head coaches and general managers before picking Pace to be the latter. This year, it will be McCaskey, Phillips, 79-year-old advisor Bill Polian, vice president of player engagement Soup Campbell and senior vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion Tanesha Wade doing the interviewing.

“The change in the interview room is that we’ve got three new people in the room,” McCaskey said. “so we’ve got the benefit of their perspective.”

There are two constants from the Bears’ last GM search. One is the team’s chairman, the grandson of its founder and the appointed leader of football’s first family.

The other is Phillips. Still.

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