What Kevin Warren’s hire could mean on the field for Chicago Bears
The Chicago Bears announced the hiring of team president Kevin Warren last week, in conjunction with the retirement of their current president, Ted Phillips. Warren has lived multiple lives within the industry, from being a practicing lawyer to opening his own agency and representing athletes, to working in football administration for the Detroit Lions and as an executive with the Minnesota Vikings. Most recently, he was the commissioner of the Big Ten Conference, headquartered in Chicago.
The hiring of a new team president doesn’t immediately seem like it would make a big difference for the product on the field. Team presidents are more often than not concerned with the business side of an NFL franchise.
They oversee ticket sales, marketing campaigns, community efforts and sponsorship deals. What they don’t often do is have the team’s general manager — and therefore the football side of the building — reporting to them as well.
Warren, however, will. It’s a responsibility reflective of his extensive experience in player contracts at the agent and executive level.
“It’s clear to me that given Kevin’s experience with NFL clubs and his interaction with their football operations, we should return to having the general manager report to the president and CEO,” said owner George McCaskey. “Ryan Poles remains in charge of our football operation with complete authority to do what he thinks is best for the Bears. Ryan and Kevin talked during our interview process, and we are confident that they and Matt will work together to give Bears fans the winner they deserve.”
With that in mind, this statement from Warren’s introductory press conference makes a whole lot more sense:
“I came here to win championships, to win the NFC North, to win the NFC, to win the Super Bowl, to help shepherd and lead a stadium development project, to embrace our alumni, to embrace our history and tradition and to embrace the absolutely incredible Chicago Bear fans,” he said.
That’s not to say Warren will have control over roster decisions. McCaskey said Poles is still in charge of the football operation. But what Warren will do is perhaps approach business decisions through a football lens.
Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren will be the Chicago Bears CEO/President
Joel described why Warren’s vacated position is highly sought-after and the impact it has on college football. He brought up two major changes coming to the Big Ten conference, including a media rights deal and two new schools.
The inner workings of an NFL front office present a variety of interesting conundrums. So many of the business-side goals are dependent on a product they have no control over. Business executives don’t install gameplans or trade and acquire players. But their ability to sell tickets and sponsorships depends on team interest from fans, which depends on the team more often than not.
A team like the Bears is a little bit insulated from this. They’re a founding franchise of the NFL and have a robust fan base. To my knowledge, there’s still a waiting list for season tickets. But if business decisions are focused on generating revenue and resources that can be put back into the product on the field, everything works in harmony.
Warren is familiar enough with what it takes to build an elite team. That could be as small as how much money to allocate towards the kitchen budget or as big as a facilities overhaul. It can also result in the intangible, creating an all-encompassing culture within the walls of Halas Hall.
“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?” and all that really becomes irrelevant,” said Warren. “When we come out of whatever room we’re in, we have the common goal.”
“The whole idea is to have fresh and new ideas,” said McCaskey. “But I don’t think he feels differently than the rest of the people in this building. We all want to win. We want championships. Kevin mentioned it half a dozen times if he mentioned it once. We want more trophies in the lobby. We want to bring championships to Bears fans.”
Another thing Warren is familiar with: stadiums. He even called himself a ‘stadium nerd.’ That comes from the fact that he helped the Minnesota Vikings build U.S. Bank Stadium, widely considered best-in-class across the league. With the hiring of Warren, the Bears have all but confirmed they are committed to following through with plans to build a new stadium on the Arlington Park property.
“I think that will be really critical from that standpoint,” Warren said. “I know we’re focused on Arlington Park and that stadium development project. I look forward to leaning in to the stadium development project, but I think the biggest thing we can do is to make sure that we’re methodical, we’re detailed, and we take the time to plan it properly.”
Warren wouldn’t fully commit to a start date but offered that he and the Bears have talked about formally starting in April.
“The day I accepted the job, I started,” said Warren. “Again, I always look at what are the assets on the chess board, and the unique thing about Arlington, it has some different unique factors. One is the space. You don’t get many times to have over 300 acres close to the city.”
The only thing left now to wonder is how exactly Warren will do it all. With how detail-oriented he and others around him talk about him being, what does his day-to-day look like? Warren offered insight there, as well.
“I come home with a stack of written materials, and I want to make sure that we’re making all those touchpoints from a corporate partnership standpoint, so it’s not one of those ones — I always say I typically watch the game on Monday because game day is so busy and then I’ll get the cut-ups and go watch the game because there’s so much of it that I miss.
“But this year I’ll be focused from a football standpoint, but I still will be focused from a business standpoint, but I try to not have wasted moments in regards to game day because that is a special opportunity.”
That sounds like a lot. This also lends itself to Poles still having autonomy within the football world. One person can’t do it all, particularly at a high level. But as the Bears continue to build a foundation for sustained success, a goal Warren himself also talked about, they could become more cohesive under Warren’s leadership.
“I will never ask anyone who works in this building to do anything that I don’t do myself,” said Warren. “But we just have to focus on the details because if you get enough people from staff to coaches to scouts to your head coach, your general manager, to our fans, to our players, to our ownership, to our alumni, just getting a little bit better on the details, majoring in the margins a little bit better, what you can get there is really, really special.
“That’s why I’m here. We will continue to do it the right way.”
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