Jim O'Donnell: For Bears fans, Kevin Warren offers hope and a new reason to believe
MORE THAN ANYTHING, fans of the Chicago Bears want a reason to believe.
They want an end to NFL Sundays and seasons filled with negative expectations -- and consistently poor outcomes.
They have devolved into a knothole gang, passionate and faithful, but all too familiar with being left outside of the big games and forced to peer in.
Thursday, in what could prove to be one of the most impacting administrative days in franchise history, team ownership offered the most star-driven ray of hope in decades.
George McCaskey and associates confirmed that Kevin Warren will leave his post as commissioner of the Big Ten to become the fifth team president since the Decatur Staleys were incorporated in 1920.
He'll replace outgoing team president Ted Phillips and will be introduced in his new role Tuesday.
WARREN, 59, IS A VETERAN NFL ADMINISTRATOR (Rams, Lions, Vikings). His career has been one of relentless ascent. He has an MBA from Arizona State and is a graduate of the law school at Notre Dame.
Except for a turn as a Vikings executive (2005-19), he has never stayed in any sports position for more than four years.
That stair-stepping includes his most recent stop at the Big 10. There since 2019, he finally gained national attention, most positively by serving as conference overseer of a mega-billlion dollar new national deal for football TV rights.
Some laud him as the man responsible for bringing USC and UCLA to the doorstep of the Big 10. Others cite that impending expansion as merely further erosion of a once rather mythical regional collegiate athletic association.
WITH THE BEARS, Warren's charge will be multi-flanged.
He will be a principal in the franchise's endless quest for its first wholly-owned new stadium. As an exec VP and later COO of the Vikings, Warren was a participant in the organization's 10-year campaign to get the $1.1B U.S. Bank Stadium built.
That facility opened in 2016 and later hosted Super Bowl 52.
At Halas Hall, he'll also be in place to advise and consent on the positive restoration of a pothole-prone football culture that bottomed out this past season with a 3-14 record -- the most losses in franchise history.
WORD OF HIS HIRING DREW immediate recall of the lightning-bolt afternoon in September, 1974, when team founder George Halas and president George "Mugs" Halas Jr. hired Jim Finks.
Finks was the football master who lifted the Vikings from the NFL's netherlands to Super Bowl 4.
Besides salary, football ops power and other considerations, the Halases also allowed Finks to purchase 3.23% of the team.
He proved worth it all. Finks stayed with the Bears for nine years. He capped his run with a masterful 1983 draft that was the final constructional leg of what would become the Mike Ditka-Buddy Ryan Super Bowl 20 champions.
Unlike Finks, Warren is not perceived as an operational football wizard.
But, more in sync with what Finks signed on for, Warren will be expected to breathe new life into a legacied franchise perhaps best summarized in these times as "lacking spark."
THE BEARS PRESIDENT-SELECT has a textured pedigree rooted in the American Southwest.
Grandfather Fred Warren was a transplanted Texan who worked at an Arizona hotel for 37 years, "never missing a day," according to family lore.
Kevin Warren's parents were both distinguished educators. Older brother Morrison Warren Jr. -- who died last May at age 78 -- was one of the first Blacks to play football at Stanford. He later opted in to a long career in banking.
GIVEN KEVIN WARREN'S ASSOCIATION with the Vikings' successful fulfillment of their new football palace, he will certainly have a spot in the foaling barn as the proposed mating between the Bears and Arlington Park canters on.
The purchase agreement between the team and Churchill Downs Inc. was announced more than 15 months ago. The confirmed sale price of $197.2M is a pittance by current NFL standards.
Why the deal has not been sealed continues to baffle, even if the Bears only "middle" the matter. That would mean they buy the 326 acres, find public/private financial conditions immovably unfavorable and resell the land for an incremental profit.
AS HIS PROFILE as Big 10 commissioner rose, Warren was reportedly courted by multiple professional sports franchises including the Broncos of the NFL and the NBA's Timberwolves and Suns.
That would indicate that he's no stranger to leverage.
A compelling point of leverage he could introduce into the Bears-Arlington Park saga is to announce the team has an option on an alternative site away from Arlington Heights and outside the city of Chicago.
That could further influence governmental entities to hop-to with fixed-tax and other considerations. Although, a core reality remains that the village of Arlington Heights does not need the Chicago Bears to improve its quality of life.
NOW, ON MULTIPLE FRONTS, all that the Bears' knothole gang can hope for is a rising sequence of tangibly positive maneuvers -- football, new stadium and otherwise. Warren's late maternal grandmother -- Mrs. Ramona Padilla-Mosley -- is said to have told her subsequent generations: "Always leave something better than you find it."
The new Bears president has a gaping window to do that -- and the team's most impassioned fan base will grasp at any new reason to believe.
• Jim O'Donnell's Sports and Media column appears Sunday and Thursday. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. All communications may be considered for publication.