‘You need to plan before you start digging’ – The Mercury News



‘You need to plan before you start digging’ – The Mercury News

The Chicago Bears formally introduced Kevin Warren as their new president and CEO on Tuesday at Halas Hall.

Warren joins the organization after spending the past three-plus years as Big Ten commissioner. Before that he had more than 20 years of experience in NFL front offices, most recently as chief operating officer for the Minnesota Vikings.

Vikings President Mark Wilf was one of 15 people who endorsed Warren in a release the Bears put out Tuesday.

“Our family holds Kevin in the highest regard as a person, a business leader and a trusted adviser,” Wilf said. “He aligned with our values and our commitment to see the Vikings organization grow and change. Through his leadership and his ability to develop people, Kevin was instrumental in helping transform the identity of this franchise.”

Warren will replace Ted Phillips, who is retiring next month after serving as Bears president and CEO since 1999.

Warren expressed his vision for how he can help propel the Bears into a promising future, including thoughts on the team’s bid for a potential new stadium in Arlington Heights.

Here are some highlights from the news conference.

Bears Chairman George McCaskey, introducing Warren

“Papa Bear is smiling today. He knows there is plenty of work to do on the field, but I’m confident he would be pleased with the handing of the baton from one accomplished executive to another to continue his stewardship of his beloved Bears. 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 and who can reenergize our staff to get us where we want to go. And it didn’t hurt that Kevin holds an advanced degree from Arizona State University.

“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.”

McCaskey on the Bears power structure

“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 (coach) Matt (Eberflus) will work together to give Bears fans the winner they deserve.”

Warren on his main objectives as he takes over

“I just think culturally and organizationally to bring a heightened degree of energy, a focus, to create an environment where people know that they can be themselves, from a family standpoint, but thrive. Make it OK to talk about winning a championship. So many times people in organizations don’t want to talk about winning a championship. I want to talk about it, but not only talk about it, then put in the work to be able to do what we need to do to win a championship.

“I’m a big believer that we need to continue to build upon the base that Coach and Ryan have built. With the players, the approach, the scouting. We need to do it the right way. I’m not interested in building something that lasts one year and goes away. I want to have sustainability from a long-term standpoint. And then from a business operations standpoint, to look for efficiencies and continually create ideas and ways, be innovative, have vision and be fearless. … And then embrace the Chicagoland community, embrace the alumni, give the fans something to cheer about.

“And then also come up with a very, very creative solution to our stadium situation and create an atmosphere that becomes a 365-days-a-year environment. There’s a lot to do. It’s exciting, it’s a challenge. This may cause many people to become fearful, but when you have these opportunities with an iconic franchise, it fit. It fit my personality, my DNA, and I’m looking forward to it.”

Warren on what he learned during the stadium-building process in Minnesota that will help him with Arlington Heights

“I remember when we finished the stadium, I had all of these boxes of binders and many people said: ‘You can get rid of those. You’ll never use those again.’ I’m glad I saved them.

“But I think the biggest thing I learned was the fact that you need to plan before you start digging. What made and makes U.S. Bank Stadium so special is we spent almost a year in planning. Planning is critical. That’s what I appreciate about the McCaskeys is they support the planning process. … I know we’re focused on Arlington Park and that stadium development project. I look forward to leaning into the stadium development project. But I think the biggest thing we can do is make sure we’re methodical, we’re detailed and we take the time to plan it properly.”

Warren on leaving the Big Ten after three years

“If I had to think of one of the main things my dad would always say to us and really put his thumb on us constantly — and my mother — would be, ‘Always leave a situation demonstratively better than it was when you got there.’ That was always on my mind. My dad always talked about that. And he would say when I would call him about different opportunities and jobs, he would say, ‘From the day you walked in the door until now, is it better?’ I’d say, ‘Yes.’ He’d say, ‘Is it demonstratively better?’ ‘Yes.’

“I just felt in 40 months there, for us to be able to come in and handle the pandemic in a manner that I thought kept our student-athletes healthy and safe, for us to be a leader in social justice initiatives, for us to be a leader in the mental health space, for us to be able to set records from a television network creativity standpoint and to be able to expand with USC and UCLA, I would say I left the Big Ten in a demonstratively better position. I wouldn’t even feel good with myself if I just kind of stayed there and let that drain out over the next years and say, ‘OK, it’s time to go.’ I just felt it was the right time. I had done what I was called there to be able to do.”

Warren on meeting with Bears staffers

“The biggest thing we can do when talking with the staff is to create an environment where they’re comfortable to really share how we can get better. And that’s why I asked the question: ‘If your family owned the team, tell me what we can do?’ Because I’ve learned in life that the power of one suggestion can really change the trajectory of an organization in a positive manner. One thought process, one ideal. And so the whole conversation to sit down with staff is to really try to figure out like, ‘What can we do here?’

“And all of a sudden, if you end up getting three to four hundred different ideas that you can implement at the appropriate time, you get better. I’m all about information, I’m all about digesting information, I’m all about culture, I’m all about winning, I’m all about family support. If we have issues, let’s take care of them in the building. And so that’s the exciting part about building a culture.”

Warren on general manager Ryan Poles

“The biggest thing that I enjoyed about Ryan is that he’s real. He’s smart, he’s intelligent, he’s detailed, he’s methodical and all you have to do is look around the people that trained him. He grew up in an environment to do things the right way. There’s no shortcuts to it. The thing I always liked about working with offensive linemen is that they’re unique individuals. They don’t get a lot of credit on the football field, but they’re so critically important to the overall operation and success.

“He has that mindset and that DNA. And we trust each other. He knows anything that I would tell him or share with him or ask of him, it’s only to benefit this organization.”

Warren on where he developed his attention to detail

“One, my parents were very detailed, but I think mine came from my car accident. When you spend a year flat on your back — I spent months in traction — and I thought the fun was going to end then. I remember when the doctor came in and said, ‘We’ve got some good news, we’re taking the pins out of your leg and you’re out of traction.’ I was like, ‘Yes,’ until he told me, ‘The bad news is we’re going to put a body cast on you.’ When you literally lay on your back for a year and go to the bathroom in a bedpan and all those different kind of things at 11 years old, you start really focusing.

“When you get out, your rehab is important. A doctor said something to me: ‘There are going to be days you’re going to have major progress and there are going to be days when you’re going to make very little progress. But never have a day you don’t make progress.’ The cost of that is I wasn’t a talented athlete. But I was going to be the best-conditioned. I ended up running distance. I trained with the wrestling team. I knew going into the game I was going to be the best-conditioned person. I was always going to shoot high free-throw percentage. I could hit a 15-, 18-foot open jump shot. I played solid defense.

“I would just say I developed that attitude. And then working on the stadium, working with the Wilfs to buy the Minnesota Vikings, who I owe them so much credit for my career, is that you need attention to detail. When you build a stadium, every single thing matters. Every measure, every line, every line item. … You can take an average person with average talent and make them exceptional if they’re just focused on the details.”

Warren on his relationship with Justin Fields and Fields’ fight to play during the 2020 Big Ten season

“If I had been in the Big Ten (as a player) at the time, I would have done the same thing. What that told me about Justin is he’s passionate. My whole goal was to keep players safe. I appreciated him, to be able to take that leadership role. So I was ecstatic when he got drafted by the Bears because that’s what you need from a leadership standpoint. But I have a strong personal relationship with him. He’s talented, he’s a leader. I love his passion. … I have the greatest amount of respect for him because I know he’s going to do everything he possibly can with the talent he has to be a leader. And he wants to win championships. Those are the people I want because if someone was not upset about (not) playing, then I really would be concerned.”

McCaskey on the potential purchase of the old Arlington Park property

“We’re still trying to determine whether we can close in the first quarter of 2023, and our singular focus is on Arlington Park.”

McCaskey on Warren’s experience building a stadium

“That wasn’t something we specifically were looking for. It was an asset Kevin brought to the table. We’re looking forward to his analysis of the site and the development opportunity in general.”

McCaskey on Warren bringing energy to the staff

“There’s plenty of energy in the building, but I think anytime there is a change, it’s an opportunity to refocus, to reenergize, to look at your strengths and weaknesses and capitalize on the strengths and minimize the weaknesses.”

McCaskey on the early priorities for Warren

“The priorities are for Kevin to establish, and one that he mentioned to you is talking to everybody in the building about what can we do to make the Bears better. I think that’s a great way to start.”

McCaskey on what the Bears have been missing

“We need to win more games obviously. We don’t want to be in this draft position ever again, and we’re confident Ryan and Matt working together will make sure that happens. We need more of the right kind of players. And we need everybody to buy in. And we need a few breaks. We had a lot of one-score games this year, and we need some of them to go our way.”

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