At his introductory press conference Friday at Halas Hall, new Bears general manager Ryan Pace made it clear what's at the top of his to-do list.
"The first order of business is to hire the right head coach to lead us to championships," Pace said. "Right now that is the most critical thing I am doing."
Pace jumped right into the search for Marc Trestman's successor Thursday, leading an interview with Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles shortly after signing his own contract.
Without naming names, Pace revealed Friday that there are other candidates he intends to speak with in addition to Bowles and the two coaches the Bears interviewed last week, Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase and Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn.
|New Bears general manager Ryan Pace is focused on hiring a head coach.|
"I'm not going to get into specific candidates, but I can assure you I understand the importance of the decision," said Pace, who spent the last 13 seasons working in the Saints' personnel department. "I witnessed this firsthand in New Orleans with Sean Payton and how that was the spark that got the New Orleans Saints headed in the right direction."
After being displaced by Hurricane Katrina and stumbling to a 3-13 record in 2005, the Saints rebounded in 2006 to go 10-6 and reach the NFC Championship Game—where they lost to the Bears at Soldier Field—in Payton's first season as coach.
Since 2006, the Saints have made five playoff appearances, won three NFC South Division titles, played in two conference championship games and won the franchise's first Super Bowl.
"[The turnaround] started when [general manager] Mickey Loomis hired Sean Payton," Pace said. "We developed an organizational philosophy right then and there on the players that we wanted to acquire and the whole building was on the same page. Everything was focused on winning games. Everyone dropped their egos and the rest is history."
Pace isn't going to hire a head coach based on whether his background is on offense or defense, in the NFL or at the college level, or in a 4-3 or 3-4 defense.
"I'm looking for the best head coach that has the traits we're looking for," Pace said. "That's confidence, charisma, discipline, leadership; those types of things. The best man for the job."
The best man for the job will be able to adapt his scheme to his players, not the other way around.
"The philosophy I favor is a coach that can adjust to the players that he has, a coach that can adjust his defense to the players, not pigeonhole players into his scheme," Pace said. "That's an important trademark of a coach—the willingness to adjust your scheme to maximize your players' talents."
It sounds as if Pace would like to hire a coach that possesses some of Payton's attributes.
"I'm influenced by Sean Payton a little bit because I saw what he brought," Pace said. "Sean came from [Bill] Parcells, so discipline was important right off the bat. But Sean has a charisma, a confidence and an energy to him that's infectious.
"I think that's important. When a head coach gets in front of the room, he's selling his plan to the players and there needs to be buy-in. Sean Payton has that, and we'll be looking for some of those qualities."
Bears chairman George H. McCaskey, team president/CEO Ted Phillips and consultant Ernie Accorsi will continue to be involved with the coaching search. But Pace will lead the interviews.
Asked if he's empowered to make the final decision, Pace said: "It is a group effort and I'm going to lean heavily on George and Ted and Ernie Accorsi, who I admire tremendously. But yes, I do have final say."
Pace hopes to hire a coach sooner rather than later, but there's no set timetable.
"Thorough interviews on these candidates are critical," Pace said. "There's urgency; no question there's urgency. But the most important thing is that we get this right."