After 23 years as Chicago Bears president and CEO and 39 years as a member of the team’s front office, Ted Phillips will retire at the end of the 2022 season, marking the end of the team’s prosperous era. field, but we weren’t consistent about it.
Last fall, Phillips, 65, told team chairman George McCuskey he was thinking of retiring. After a series of discussions, it was decided that Phillips would step down next February.
“A lot of dynamics changed when COVID arrived, giving me time to think about my life, my work life,” Phillips said in an exclusive interview. athletic“Well, we have come to the conclusion that nearly 40 years is a long time. I’m away from my family for hours I just turned 65 I feel good I’m in good health I feel it’s time to slow down and do whatever I want .”
McCaskey said his main feeling about Phillips’ tenure with the Bears was gratitude.
Asked what stood out about Phillips’ run, McCuskey said, “His humility. His intelligence. His consensus building. His steady hand. He refuses to go too high or too low. was the Bears’ standout leader, and the word incomparable comes to mind.
The search for a successor has begun. McCaskey, Phillips, Senior Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, her Tanesha Wade, continues discussions with her Nolan Partners at her search firm.
Potential internal successors may include Scott Hagel, senior vice president of marketing and communications, and Cliff Stein, senior vice president and general counsel. McCaskey said he would not identify any candidates at this time.
The renovation of Soldier Field nearly 20 years ago was Phillips’ crowning achievement. In the 1990s, the Bears found themselves in an outdated stadium with no revenue streams comparable to other stadium contracts with his team. Without a new home, the bears may have had to resort to drastic measures to survive.
The restructuring of Soldier Field has significantly improved the Bears’ profitability and provided them with a satisfying football-only stadium for the first time in 100 years.
Known for his interpersonal skills and his good-natured, hearty laugh, Phillips tackled the stadium dilemma by building a rapport with then-Chicago mayor Richard M. Daly. Phillips and Daly found common ground in their love of the Bears. They talked about the players, the games, the coaches and where they would play, after which Phillips gave Mr. and Mrs. McCuskey permission to sign his five-year extension of his below-market lease on the field of the Soldier. asked to give On the surface, this was a setback for the Bears, but it paid off as it set the tone for a give-and-take relationship between the team and the city.
Initially, Phillips proposed demolishing the old solider field, leaving the landmark colonnade, and building a new stadium in the south parking lot. Daley rejected the idea, but he accepted his second offer to rebuild the stadium on its existing site.
The agreed $630 million lakefront improvement plan was funded by lodging taxes and more than $200 million from the Bears and the NFL.
“When you think about it, it was probably the highlight of my career,” said Phillips, who accomplished what George Halas and Michael McCuskey had tried and failed many times. Working with a house, three contractors, politicians, and various lawyers, there was a lot involved, and for a while it was a comprehensive 24/7 job. When I go there, I still look at the place and say I can’t believe I’ve done this.”
As his career draws to a close, Phillips spends most of his time at the Bears’ next home as a point person at a stadium in suburban Arlington Heights. George McCuskey said when the Bears were contacted about bidding on the land previously occupied by Arlington Park, Phillips researched the value of the land and led the Bears through a complicated bidding process. Since the tender was accepted and the sale and purchase agreement was signed, Phillips has been responsible for rights due diligence and has worked with experts in corporate land purchases, stadium construction, transportation and financing.
Phillips intends to close the property before it retires, but Phillips and McCuskey believe there are too many unknowns and challenges to determine if or when the closure will occur. showed.
McCaskey said a new president would likely be in charge of pursuing new stadiums, but not necessarily.
Phillips may remain as a consultant on the project. McCaskey and Phillips said they were open to the possibility but had not yet discussed it.
The organizational chart changed in January. Previously, the General Manager reported to Phillips. As the new general manager, Ryan Poles will report to his McCaskey. When the change was announced, McCuskey cited the Arlington Heights project as the reason.
But that was not all.
“The reality is that the team has not been a consistent winner,” Phillips said. “So I spoke with George and told him that some changes needed to be made regarding football coverage and the decision was made to make the changes.”
During Phillips’ reign, the Bears had a .480 winning percentage and failed to make the playoffs 73% of the season. Phillips called not winning “the biggest disappointment”.
Fans and media have at times blamed Phillips for the Bears’ struggles, but he never made decisions about players and was never a meddler. He hired people to make decisions about players and discuss their choices with them.
“My role was to consult with the general manager to provide resources to support the team. For decades, the Bears’ Achilles heel has been putting in place the right quarterback who is not only talented, but who can guide and elevate the talent levels around him. In my opinion, a different report from the head coach or general manager wouldn’t have changed anything.
The Bears’ loss could not be blamed on the facility. Phillips was responsible for his two significant renovations at Harras Hall, which gave the Bears a world-class home. In 2012, he added 30,000 square feet to the Lake Forest Building, which opened in 1997. And he added about 200,000 square feet in 2019.
“Thanks to Ted’s efforts, we have one of the best facilities in the league,” McCuskey said.
When Phillips started working for the Bears in 1983, he reported to his former Harras Hall. It cost about $98 million less to build than the new Harras Hall’s latest renovation. This is one of his many ways to measure organizational progress in Phillips’ time. In his first year with the team, the Bears employed his 50 people, including nine of his coaches. The team currently employs about 250 people, including 25 of his coaches. The Bears have gone from one practice field (not counting the park a block away or the high school you bused to) to five.
When Phillips became team president in 1999, the average NFL team was worth $400 million, and the Bears were probably below average due to stadium conditions. Currently, Forbes estimates the team’s worth at $5.8 billion.
“The growth is phenomenal,” said Phillips. “It’s fun to be a part of it. I don’t know what will happen.”
It was all beyond his imagination when he was hired by the Bears on September 28, 1983. A native of New Hampshire, Phillips graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 1979 and joined the accounting firm Ernst and Whinney in Chicago. He was tasked with preparing tax returns for George Halas, the McCussky family and the Bears. That’s how Phillips met Bears general manager Jerry Vainisi, who hired him as the team controller.
When Vainisi was fired after the 1986 season, there was a void in the Bears’ front office. After months of conversations, then-Bears managing director Bill McGrain asks Michael McCuskey to take responsibility for negotiating player contracts, even though Phillips had no experience in the role. persuaded Phillips to McCaskey took a chance on Phillips and promoted him to Finance Director.
Phillips negotiated all of the Bears’ player contracts from 1987 to 2000, learned about football management, and often consulted with former Bears general manager Jim Finks, who was with the Saints at the time, and Giants general manager George Young. . He was promoted to Vice President of Operations in his 1993, taking on the additional responsibility of overseeing football operations.
In early 1999, Michael McCuskey unsuccessfully tried to hire David McGinnis as head coach. His mother, Virginia McCuskey, has since decided to replace Michael as team principal. At a meeting at McCuskey’s suburban home, Virginia and her husband Ed told Phillips they wanted him to succeed Michael.
On February 10, Phillips took over as president and CEO, becoming the fourth president in team history and the first president not of the Halas family.
Under Phillips’ oversight, the team hired general managers Jerry Angello, Phil Emery, Ryan Pace, and head coaches Robbie Smith, Mark Trestman, John Fox and Matt Nagy.
Angelo was the Bears’ first general manager in 15 years. Phillips and Angelo worked well together during his decade when the Bears made his four appearances in the playoffs, he made one appearance in the Super Bowl, and had a . Phillips called the Angelo era the highlight of his tenure in terms of football.
“I’m really proud of the fact that I helped get Jerry on board,” Phillips said. “I will be forever grateful to Jerry for putting together a really solid team and bringing in Rabby and an excellent coaching staff.
Phillips also left his mark at league level. He chairs his NFL’s Employment Benefits Committee and is also a member of the Management Council Executive Committee Working Group and the CBA Player Benefits Plans Committee.
As he gears up for the next phase, Phillips said he cherishes his friendships in the NFL and his relationships at Harrahs Hall. He credits those he worked with for all that was accomplished during his tenure.
“I am very blessed,” he said. “The McCuskie family has so much faith in me. I feel like part of their family. It was a dream come true to be able to work with a family that has such a strong desire to win a game in the NBA.My career has been fun every day.”
(Photo: Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)