New Bears president helped secure Vikings' stadium deal. He's tasked with the same at Arlington.

The sports executive announced Thursday as the new president and CEO of the Chicago Bears helped orchestrate a deal for a new NFL stadium in Minnesota.

Now he'll try to do the same in Arlington Heights.

Kevin Warren, the Big Ten Conference commissioner since 2020 and Minnesota Vikings chief operating officer before that, is becoming the Bears' fifth team president and the first from outside the organization in its 102-year history. He replaces Ted Phillips, who is retiring after 40 years with the club, the last 23 as president and CEO.

Phillips, who put together the deal that resulted in a $690 million renovation of Soldier Field two decades ago, has been the point man on the organization's efforts to purchase and redevelop the 326-acre Arlington Park property. He announced last September that he planned to retire in late February — right around the time of a scheduled closing on the franchise's pending $197.2 million purchase from Churchill Downs Inc.

Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes said Warren's role in the development of U.S. Bank Stadium, which opened in Minneapolis in 2016, likely was a strong point on Warren's resume for Bears Chairman George McCaskey and other decision-makers at Halas Hall.

“I think it's a really excellent hire in terms of its benefits to the Bears organization and to the NFL,” Hayes said. “I think he's going to be a great addition to the team and we're really looking forward to working with him in the months ahead. ... It's a very critical time in the Bears' history, and I think he'll have a lot to offer in terms of the process going forward.”

Warren was just a year into his role as chief operating officer with the Vikings when the $1.1 billion stadium in downtown Minneapolis opened, but he served as the team's executive vice president of legal affairs and chief administrative officer before that, since 2005.

In their announcement of Warren's hiring, Bears officials said he played an “integral” role in all business, financial, legal and operational aspects related to the new Vikings stadium, including involvement in the design and construction process.

The team said Warren will oversee General Manager Ryan Poles and the business operations of the club. Warren will be formally introduced at a news conference Tuesday at Halas Hall.

“Kevin is a man of integrity, respect and excellence, all of which are critical core values of the Chicago Bears, and we welcome his perspective and diverse thought to lead this storied organization,” McCaskey said in a statement. “He is a proven leader who has many times stepped outside of his comfort zone to challenge status quo for unconventional growth and prosperity. 

“In this role, Warren will serve in the primary leadership position of the franchise to help bring the next Super Bowl championship trophy home to Bears fans.”

Added Phillips: “It was important to ensure the Bears had the right leader in place before I retired. Kevin will do an excellent job of bringing the best out of the great people at Halas Hall and continue the evolution of our proud franchise.”

Warren, 59, who lives in the Chicago area, won't have a much different commute to the Bears' offices in Lake Forest. Since his hiring as Big Ten commissioner in June 2019, he's been working from the conference's headquarters at Rosemont's Parkway Bank Park entertainment district.

Warren had spoken with several professional teams going through transitions at the top, including the Denver Broncos, Phoenix Suns and Minnesota Timberwolves during his tenure as Big Ten commissioner, a person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press on Dec. 29.

Warren said in the Bears announcement Thursday that he was humbled by the selection to lead the NFL's founding franchise.

“I am honored and recognize the responsibility bestowed upon me to lead the Chicago Bears during this exciting and pivotal time for the franchise,” Warren said. “I look forward to building on the rich tradition that started with George Halas and connecting with the unique and vibrant fan base in Chicago.”

Hayes said he expects a seamless transition between the leadership of Warren and Phillips, who has been the head Bears contact for village hall during the Arlington Park redevelopment project. The mayor said it would be an easy transition because he and the village staff have been communicating with others who are staying on board, including in-house attorney Cliff Stein, outside counsel Paul Shadle, and McCaskey.

Warren is expected to officially come aboard in the spring, and Hayes said he looks forward to having an introductory meeting with him sometime around then.

The Bears are weeks away from a scheduled closing on the shuttered racetrack property, Hayes said.

At the Big Ten, Warren secured a groundbreaking 7-year, $7 billion media rights media rights package with CBS, NBC and FOX last August for football and basketball games, in what are the largest such deals in college sports history. The month before, the Big Ten voted unanimously to admit UCLA and USC effective in August 2024, an expansion that will increase the conference's footprint from coast to coast and in the three largest media markets.

Early in his tenure after taking the helm from retiring Commissioner Jim Delany, Warren faced criticism as the pandemic took hold and the Big Ten became the first major conference to cancel all fall sports competition. Warren reversed that decision a month later and agreed to an abbreviated fall 2020 schedule after facing pushback from players, parents and coaches. Justin Fields, now the Bears' quarterback, was at Ohio State when he started an online petition that got 280,000 signatures calling on Warren to reinstate the season.

Before the Big Ten, Warren spent 21 years as an NFL executive, with stints with the St. Louis Rams and Detroit Lions before the Vikings. An attorney by practice, Warren left Detroit in 2003 to return to his hometown of Phoenix to work for the international law firm Greenberg Traurig. There, he represented the Wilf family and Minnesota Vikings ownership group in a $600 million deal to purchase the franchise, and Wilf later hired Warren to work for the Vikings.

• The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes said the hiring of Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren by the Chicago Bears comes at a "critical time" in the team's history, as it pursues redevelopment of Arlington Park. Daily Herald File Photo, 2021
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