As Kevin Warren headed into Halas Hall Tuesday morning to address the entire Bears front office and speak at his introductory press conference, he entered into the mindset that it was the first day of his summer internship.
It's unlikely anyone else in the building compared Warren's first day as the new Bears President and CEO to an internship. His genuine charisma and welcoming, yet motivating tone didn't belong to that of a nervous or inexperienced intern, nor should it, considering his 21 years of NFL experience and recent position as Big Ten commissioner.
But feeling those first-day butterflies, wondering what the job is going to look like or hoping you don't disappoint your new coworkers is the approach Warren plans to take every morning he passes the George Halas statue outside the front entrance at 1920 Football Drive. It's the approach Warren has taken his entire career and it's kept him from ever putting a ceiling on his career aspirations. It's why he generates big and bold ideas while also finding the capacity to execute them. And it's the reason he walked through Halas Hall Tuesday with a cool confidence, unfazed by the fact he's assumed a high-profile role as just the fifth-ever President of the most historic NFL franchise.
"The human nature is that it is intimidating, and I've just been one of those people – I don't know why – that I gravitate toward major challenges," Warren said. "So yes, to think of the three McCaskeys – George Halas, George Halas Jr., Michael McCaskey – then Ted [Phillips] in the 103-year history, that makes you sit up straight. Very similar to the Big Ten when I went in there and they've only had five commissioners in a 127-year history. Those things get my attention and I always want to push myself in a period of life when I know I can't do it on my own, that my faith in God has to be really strong and that's when I know I'm in the right zone."
Through his extensive experience in the sports industry, Warren is no stranger to heading outside his comfort zone. He's always searching for unique opportunities that will test his abilities and the opportunity to serve as President and CEO of the Bears is as rare and demanding as it gets.
But that's the exact reason Warren was willing to leave his post at the Big Ten after 40 months of building momentum in a booming college athletics industry. In the last year alone, Warren expanded the conference from 14 to 16 teams with the additions of USC and UCLA, who will officially join in 2024, and secured a historic multibillion-dollar media rights deal with FOX, CBS and NBC.
No other opportunity would've pulled Warren from the Big Ten as he was hitting new highs in a monumental role, but he said taking the Bears job felt "right in my spirit." That gut feeling is rooted in Warren's undying passion for a challenge.
"This presented an opportunity of a massive challenge, but with a franchise that has all of the elements in place," Warren said. "And I wanted to be that our backs are against the wall, that we're coming off a three-win season, that we have to solve our stadium situation, that we have the No. 1 pick and the pressure associated with that, and we have so many other draft picks and salary cap money.
"I want it to be that we have about five or six or seven major issues that we have to deal with. Most people have one, maybe two, and so to have that challenge is exciting to me. Because what that's going to make us do, is we're going to have to pull together. We're not going to have any lone rangers to be able to drift off and solve this. That's exciting because what that allows us to do collectively is build a team and build energy."
Ten years from now, Warren is sure the everyone inside Halas Hall will be able to exhale and say, "Wow. We did it."
Warren's confidence as a leader looks and feels natural, like he was meant to guide large groups through adversity and into success. But he really learned and nurtured that trait when he was alone, the first example coming from Warren at 11 years old, when he was hit by a car while riding his bike. Through about a year either in traction or a full body cast, he spent hours by himself, focusing on what he could turn his life into if he fully recovered.
But as a young boy, he couldn't necessarily grasp what traits that experience created inside him. It took another 16 years – after a Business Administration degree from Grand Canyon University, an MBA from Arizona State University and a Juris Doctorate degree from the University of Notre Dame Law School – for Warren to understand his potential.
"I think it clicked when I started my sports agency because on paper, all the signs pointed to not doing it. I was 27 years old, didn't have a lot of financial resources, didn't even have a line of credit, started a sports agency with no clients, no office space, no mentor. To be able to do that and then end up representing Chris Zorich and Will Shields, who's in the Hall of Fame, and Lake Dawson, the list goes on, to start from scratch, I'm like, 'you know what, I can do this.'"
The next point of growth for Warren was joining the St. Louis Rams in 1997 as the vice president of player programs/football legal counsel. After the Rams finished 5-11 and 4-12, respectively, in Warren's first two seasons with the club, he remembers having about nine months left on his contract and living in St. Louis away from his family – two young children and his wife, Greta.
An undoubtedly stressful experience turned into a blissful one in 1999 when the Rams posted a 13-3 record en route to winning the Super Bowl.
"Those are things I recognize, when you get a group of people that pull together, that believe, that are willing to go beyond their comfort zone, you can do some amazing stuff," Warren said. "That Rams deal was really what told me that this can work."
Every single one of Warren's successes throughout his career has been fueled by his desire to "leave a situation demonstrably better than it was when you got there," a sentiment his father continuously preached to him and his family and one he is committed to applying to his tenure with the Bears.
While Warren wanted his new position for the challenge of pushing himself and his peers past their expected limits and to foster a productive, trusting environment with a historic organization, the one factor he needed to see in order to accept the role was family values.
"If you have family values, you always have a chance and that's so important to us," Warren said. "It's hard to win in this league. I mean, life's hard enough and to be able to do the things they want to do and we want to do together, build a championship organization on the field and off the field, in the community with our fans, win Super Bowls and build a stadium, you have to have strong family values. So that was important. Without that I never would have come here."
Get an exclusive look at new Bears president and CEO Kevin Warren as he arrives at Halas Hall, tours the facility, meets with the media and more.