The Bears conducted a press conference Tuesday in the George "Mugs" Halas Auditorium at Halas Hall introducing new President and CEO Kevin Warren. Here is what we learned during the session:
(1) Bears Chairman George H. McCaskey detailed the process of hiring a new President and CEO for the first time in 24 years, and why Warren, among over 20 candidates for the position, was ultimately the right fit.
The Bears' process to find Ted Phillips' successor began last summer and included a search firm – Nolan Partners – and a search team consisting of McCaskey, Phillips, Bears senior vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion Tanesha Wade and Bears vice president of human resources Liz Geist.
McCaskey said Warren was on both Nolan Partners' and the Bears' list of candidates for the position and he was "delighted that Kevin was available and interested." When discussing the interview process with Warren, McCaskey said it's hard to pinpoint just one thing that excited him most, but Warren's energy, experience, trust level and past accomplishments stood out.
"Kevin possesses the qualities that we were looking for in our next president and CEO: leadership, vision, intelligence, decisiveness, humility, a team player, an effective communicator, someone who understands what the Bears are all about," McCaskey said, "And who can re-energize our staff to get us where we want to go. Kevin's experience as a player agent, as a lawyer in private practice, as an executive with three NFL clubs, and as Big Ten commissioner has prepared him for this moment. And we have complete confidence in him to lead this franchise back to greatness."
(2) Warren outlined his main objectives as the new President and CEO of the Bears.
"We're going to build an incredible franchise," Warren said. "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. That's why I'm here.
"We will continue to do it the right way. We will work hard. We will have fun. We will be diligent. We will be detailed. We will be methodical. We'll operate with integrity and honor at every step of the way. This is a special time in the NFL, but most of all it's a special time for the Chicago Bears. Everything is ahead of us. All we need to do now is go and grasp it, put in the time and energy and effort."
Warren wants to be able to talk about winning a championship across the organization and put in the necessary work to achieve that goal, which starts with bringing a heightened degree of energy and focus.
From a football standpoint, Warren believes it's crucial to keep building on the foundation general manager Ryan Poles and coach Matt Eberflus built this season. Sustained success is Warren's goal as he "is not interested in building something that lasts for a year then goes away."
From a business operations standpoint, he will be focused on looking for efficiencies, continuously creating ideas and processes that are innovative, being fearless and having a set vision. Warren wants to create an environment where everyone is comfortable sharing their opinions on how the organization can improve and work toward winning championships.
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.
(3) The challenge of the Bears' President and CEO position along with his professional connection to the organization made the job attractive to Warren.
"I'm a big believer in challenges and I wouldn't want it if it were easy," Warren said. "If all the elements were in place, it wouldn't have been as attractive. But the main thing is the challenge. And I believe in every organization, there are certain inflection points. I think the Chicago Bears are at that point from a positive standpoint. We have so many positive things. I never look at the negatives. There is no such thing as a negative situation. There is only opportunities."
Warren said the combination of having a historic franchise with valued ownership, a new, young group of players, coaches, staff – including Poles and Eberflus – and the assets in free agency and the NFL Draft create a lot of moving parts that intrigue him.
"I always want to have something where you get out of the bed in the morning that you say there is too much to do," Warren said. "Because with that, what I've learned in my life, that's when I know I'm in my sweet spot and that's when I know I really have to rely on my relationship with God and prayer and faith and to work hard and come together. And so if things had been in place here, totally, I wouldn't have been as attracted. But when you put ownership that has their integrity and the foundation that has been set with all the other elements in place, there's no greater opportunity in the world right now in sports."
In Warren's opening remarks, he detailed his initial connection to the Bears, which formed in 1992 when he started his own sports agency. Former Bears defensive tackle Chris Zorich was Warren's first client and his only client during his first year as an agent, which he said, "afforded me the opportunity to really learn and understand truly what the Chicago Bears stands for and what it means."
Warren recalls attending all of the Bears home games at Soldier Field that season and even negotiating Zorich's contract with Phillips. Now at the helm of the franchise, Warren thanked Zorich for "having faith in a 27-year-old person to represent you" and expressed his gratitude to Zorich for starting him on his 30-year professional journey.
(4) After assessing Warren's strengths as an executive, McCaskey decided that general manager Ryan Poles will report to Warren moving forward.
While historically, the Bears general manager has reported to the president and CEO, with Phillips' impending retirement over the last year, McCaskey assumed the duty of overseeing Poles this season.
McCaskey has now assigned that responsibility back to the president and CEO, as Poles will now report to Warren
"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. 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."
Throughout the hiring process, Warren and Poles were able to establish a strong relationship and are excited to work alongside one another. Poles' intelligence, attention to detail and methodical thinking immediately stuck out to Warren along with his unique mindset and DNA as a former offensive lineman.
"We trust each other," Warren said of his relationship with Poles. "And he knows anything that I tell him or share with him or ask of him, it's only to benefit this organization. And so when you get people like coach and like George and Ted and other people in this organization who have a common goal — not about us. It's not about any of us. It's about getting things the right way. Bringing in the best players in here who fit this culture and the talk about championships, but not only desire for the trophy, but really embrace the training, but I just enjoy him because he's a very detailed individual."
While Warren's connections with Poles and Eberflus have begun to form, his relationship with quarterback Justin Fields is long-established. When Warren took over as Big Ten commissioner in 2020, he was tasked with navigating the COVID-19 pandemic and initially canceled the fall football season in August.
Fields, then-quarterback at The Ohio State University, created a petition for the conference to reinstate the football season. In September, Warren decided to reverse course and start the Big Ten football season in October.
Warren said he has a "strong personal relationship with Fields," and always respected his passion for football and desire to take advantage of every opportunity.
"What that told me about Justin is that he's passionate," Warren said. "My whole goal was trying to keep players safe. I appreciated him being able to take that leadership role. I called him on draft day and I was ecstatic that he got drafted by the Bears because that's what you need from a leadership standpoint.
"I have the greatest amount of respect for him because I know he's gonna do everything he possibly can with the talent that he has to be a leader. He wants to win championships. Those are the people that I want, because if someone was not upset about [not] playing, then I really would be concerned. I know if I was in the Big Ten and someone did what I did, yeah, I would've led a revolt to be able to play, because that's how passionate I was to take advantage of it. So I think that's great."
(5) Using his previous experience with helping plan the construction of the Vikings' U.S. Bank Stadium, Warren will lead the Bears' potential stadium development efforts at Arlington Park.
McCaskey and Warren both told reporters Monday the Bears' singular focus when it comes to stadium development is Arlington Park. The Bears signed a purchase and sale agreement in September 2021 for the purpose of acquiring 326 acres of property in Arlington Heights to potentially build a new stadium anchored entertainment district.
The Bears have not closed on the property, and if they do, it does not guarantee they will develop the land. McCaskey said the Bears are still working toward closing on the property in the first quarter of 2023.
In the Bears' search for a new president and CEO, experience with stadium construction wasn't a specific quality they were looking for. However, McCaskey said it was an "asset that Kevin brought to the table."
Having an integral role in U.S. Bank Stadium's construction and operation, Warren said the most important thing he learned is the value of planning before digging.
"I think what makes U.S. Bank Stadium so special, we spent almost a year planning, and planning is critical," Warren said. "That's what I appreciate about the McCaskeys, they support the planning process. I think that will be really critical from that standpoint and I know we're focused on Arlington Park and that stadium development project; I looked forward to leaning in to the stadium development project. But I think the biggest thing we can do is to make sure we're methodical and detailed and we take the time to plan it properly."
(6) Warren is a trailblazer, having been the first Black commissioner of a major college conference and now the first Black President and CEO of the Bears, and puts a major focus on diversity, equity and inclusion, saying "we need to get people opportunities."
"I didn't go to a boarding school, I didn't go to private schools or whatever," Warren said. "I went to public schools and high school, and I just think it's an opportunity to really grind it out. That's what it comes down to. But we have to give people an opportunity. We started a program at the Big Ten called the Taliaferro Fellows, named after George Taliaferro, who was the first Black player in the Big Ten drafted, just to give people an opportunity and to grow and learn."
Diversity, equity and inclusion is critical to Warren and has been throughout his entire career. In Minnesota, Warren was involved with different HBCU, women's and LGBTQ+ programs to help provide equal opportunities for every group.
In 2013, Warren was named a member of the NFL Committee on Workplace Diversity which is committed to enhancing and promoting diversity throughout the league. During Super Bowl LI festivities in Houston in 2017, he was honored with the Texas Southern University Pioneer Award, recognizing his groundbreaking role as an NFL executive and his commitment to championing diversity.
As Big Ten commissioner, Warren traveled with student-athletes and administrators to Selma and Montgomery, Ala., last July for an immersive experience – "Big Life Series: Selma to Montgomery." The pilgrimage to one of the key centers of the civil rights movement was highlighted by a march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, which is the site of the 1965 Bloody Sunday attack.
"I got up on the bus and asked people, 'what are you willing to walk 54 miles for?" Warren said. "They walked 54 miles just to have an opportunity to vote. And they were white people, Black people, all kinds of from different backgrounds, Jewish people, Christians, Muslims. It was all kinds of people.
"What that says to me, you've got to be dedicated. And they didn't walk -- it was not a nature walk. They walked with dress shoes and high heels, slept on the road and all those different things. I ask myself every day, 'what am I willing to walk 54 miles for?' I'll tell you one thing I'm willing to walk 54 miles for is the Chicago Bears, and when you get a group of people together who are willing to do that, it's important, and that's what we can learn from diversity, equity and inclusion."