About twenty days ago, George McCaskey said he was “just a fan” of the Chicago Bears and that comment was met with an array of outrages. How could this man, the Chairman of the franchise (an official, paid position), be so naive as to suggest he does not bear responsibility for the franchise’s success on the field? Why hadn’t this man, tasked with leading the organization, used all the resources at his disposal to not only be more than a fan, but to be one of the more knowledgeable football men in the league?
It was the most damning moment in his tenure and two things happened in the immediate aftermath of that press conference. Ted Phillips and McCaskey had a heated conversation, as the club’s president made clear to its oblivious owner just how bad the press conference had gone. Then, McCaskey left Halas Hall, leaving Ted alone to discuss the GM candidates with the hiring team and organize their schedules. (Ted didn’t leave the building to well after midnight. McCaskey was not in contact.)
The tension thawed. McCaskey was on the Zoom for every GM candidate, although his participation was extremely limited. One source says the questioning broke down about 70-30, with Bill Polian asking the majority of the questions and Phillips asking the Bears-specific stuff. (Ryan Poles’ comments at his introductory presser mirrored the responses from most candidates, in that Polian was an exceptional leader of these calls.) Ted encouraged George to get more actively involved. George resisted, again not believing it was his place to do so.
Then, something changed.
The Bears interviewed Ryan Poles.
A text came to me minutes after the interview concluded. “They love Poles. George especially.”
Soon after, news broke that the Minnesota Vikings were going to bring in Poles for a second interview the following Wednesday. McCaskey went to Phillips in something of a panic. He wanted to know if they were in danger of losing his candidate of choice. Phillips told him they were. Within a few hours, the Bears had scheduled Poles for his second interview on Tuesday, a day before his scheduled visit to Minnesota. (This was done Tuesday instead of Monday to be fair to Omar Khan and Morocco Brown, who were already scheduled for that day, but had very little chance of being chosen.) I was texted in no uncertain terms, “If it goes well, they aren’t going to let him leave on Tuesday.”
Then, O’Hare happened.
I saw the video of Crazy Jacket George picking up Poles outside baggage claim when I woke up early in the morning. I texted several people I know around the league with the same question: “Have you ever heard of an owner picking up a GM candidate from the airport?”
When the hour was decent, I texted my source inside the Bears: “Tell me you’ve seen the George video.” His response was telling. “This has become George’s process. He’s owning it. He’s making a statement.” An owner, owning it.
Yesterday’s introductory press conference offered three elements that cemented this hiring cycle as the cycle that will define the chairman tenure of George McCaskey.
First, Ted Phillips was not there. (In the room, sure, but with zero involvement in the event.) This is no small decision, and it was made at the insistence of Phillips. Not a decision that had been previously made.
Second, in his initial remarks, McCaskey said that after meeting with Poles in-person, he polled the others in attendance, and they were unanimous in their support. He said, “That made it an easy decision for me.” Me. Not us. Again, not language he had previously used.
Third, Poles opened his remarks by citing the baggage claim pickup as a testament to the owner’s character. And as GM of the Bears, with full control of football operations, the character of the boss can be a dealbreaker. It was obvious how much this meant to the young personnel man and it’s not hard to understand why Poles bypassed his potential meeting with the Vikings the following day. There’s a line from Glengarry Glen Ross: “Man does not walk on the lot ‘less he wants to buy.” At O’Hare. McCaskey was closing.
Bill Polian helped compile and the list and led the interviews. Ted Phillips handled the logistics. Soup Campbell and Tanesha Wade provided a much-respected sounding board and much-needed diversity. But the hiring of Ryan Poles was a George McCaskey joint, top to bottom. He owns it. And perhaps he’s come to embrace his role as the owner of the team, truly for the first time.
When I floated the idea of this column to my source inside Halas Hall, his response was a funny one. “Lol. Don’t get too excited. He’s still a fucking wacky dude. But he showed a little something.”
For those who love the Chicago Bears, “a little something” feels like a lot. And it will have to do for now.