Why McCaskey, Phillips aren't willing to start over
With framed footballs and a Bears helmet lining the walls of his office behind him, Bears president and CEO Ted Phillips looked into the camera and said, "Holding people accountable is much more than just starting over."
The Bears announced Wednesday they are keeping general manager Ryan Pace and head coach Matt Nagy. The team made it a 90-minute news conference over Zoom that featured Phillips, chairman George McCaskey, Pace and Nagy.
To the segment of Bears fans who wanted a fresh start, a new regime, this was the worst-case scenario. Instead, it will be more of the same in 2021. Any fans who thought Phillips' job might be in jeopardy were in for a rude awakening.
McCaskey said the leadership Phillips displayed during the pandemic was "extraordinary." McCaskey doubled down on his and his family's "faith in (Phillips) as the Bears' president and CEO" and noted that he and Phillips play no part in the football decisions that Pace makes. Phillips has been president and CEO of the Bears since 1999 and has worked for the Bears since September 1983.
Phillips was a "steady hand" for McCaskey as he went through the postseason evaluation process.
"We had vigorous discussions over the course of several weeks," McCaskey said. "Those conversations, as well as regular meetings with Ryan and Matt, including this week, have been candid and constructive and have culminated in the decisions we're sharing with you today."
To that end, they together decided to give Pace a seventh year as general manager and to give Nagy a fourth year as head coach. Despite a six-game losing streak that nearly crippled the 2020 season, Pace and Nagy have another year to pull the Bears out of 8-8 mediocrity.
McCaskey, the grandson of legendary Bears founder George Halas, said he has been reading the hate mail in his email inbox. He hears Bears fans, even if he couldn't hear them at Soldier Field this season because of the pandemic.
He knows, too, that this decision will not be popular.
"I get it," McCaskey said. "You deserve your Bears being winners. The decisions we're announcing today might not be the easiest or most popular, but we believe they're the best decisions for the Bears."
McCaskey and Phillips again and again Wednesday mentioned the culture the Bears have created at Halas Hall. Phillips said in his mind he breaks Pace's tenure into two parts: the rebuilding stretch from 2015 to 2017 (during which the Bears went 14-34) and the 2018 to 2020 stretch (when they were 28-20 with two playoff appearances). In Phillips' mind, it seems, that signifies a change in culture.
"When you sit back, and you look at what makes a successful organization besides wins and losses, it's the people that you have," Phillips said. "It's whether or not they can put their egos down. It's whether or not they can look at situations, self-reflect, admit to their mistakes and try to find learnings from not just their mistakes, but the successes that they've had and build off of those."
Neither Nagy nor Pace has been given a contract extension. In a curious back and forth with members of the media, Phillips and Pace declined to say when exactly those contracts expire. According to the Bears' website, Pace's deal is through 2021.
If that remains the case, which all indications are that it is, the 2021 season would appear to be a prove-it year. McCaskey and Phillips didn't exactly word it that way, but they want to see better results.
"We need to see improvement," Phillips said. "As we've read many times over the last few weeks, there's a desire to fire everyone. When you don't win enough games, fire everyone. That is not a recipe for success in our opinion."
McCaskey added that he views 2020, despite a playoff appearance, as a losing season.
Pace said the 8-8 regular season record in 2020 wasn't good enough. The Bears are facing major questions at quarterback, receiver and offensive line, and have to figure out what to do with a defense that didn't meet expectations. They have limited salary cap space with which to answer those questions.
"Ownership has given us an opportunity," Pace said. "They've given us all the resources we can ask for. And now, that's on Matt and I to prove them right."