After 23 years as president and CEO of the Chicago Bears and 39 years as a member of the team’s front office, Ted Phillips is retiring at the end of the 2022 season, marking the end of an era in which the team thrived but was inconsistent on the field.
Last fall, Phillips, 65, told team boss George McCaskey he was considering retirement. After a series of discussions, a decision was made that Phillips would step down the next February.
Phillips said in an exclusive interview with the athlete. “I came to the conclusion that almost 40 years is a long time. Time to hand the wand and give myself the gift of time. You know how work that can be, so many hours and time away from family. I turned 65. I feel good My health is fine. I felt it was time to slow down and do whatever I wanted to do.”
McCasci said his primary feeling about Phillips’ time with the Beers family was gratitude.
Asked what distinguishes Phillips’ race, McAskie said, “His humility. His intelligence. Building his compatibility. His steady hand. His refusal to be too high or too low. He was an outstanding leader for the Bears. Unrivaled is the word that comes to mind.”
The process of finding a successor began. McAskie, Phillips, and Tanesha Wade, senior vice president for diversity, equality, and inclusion, held discussions with research firm Nolan Partners.
Possible internal alternatives may include Senior Vice President of Marketing and Communications Scott Hagel and Senior Vice President and Legal Counsel Cliff Stein. McAskie said he would not identify potential candidates at this time.
The renovation of Soldier Field nearly 20 years ago was Phillips’ icing on the cake. In the 1990s, the Bears found themselves in an old stadium with no revenue streams to compete with other stadium teams’ deals. Without a new home, the bears may have had to take drastic measures to ensure survival.
The rebuilding of the Soldier Field greatly increased the Bears’ profitability and gave the team the first satisfactory football-only stadium in 100 years.
Phillips, known for his folklore skills and easy, hearty laugh, approached the stadium dilemma by building trust with then-Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley. Phillips and Daly found common ground in their love of bears. They talked about the players, the games, the coaches, as well as where they would play. Phillips then asked the McCaskey family to give him permission to sign a five-year extension to the below-market lease at Soldier Field. Ostensibly, it was a step backwards for the Bears — but it paid off because it set the tone for the give-and-take relationship between the team and the city.
Initially, Phillips proposed demolishing the old Solidere Field while leaving the historic columns and building a new stadium in the southern parking lot. Daly rejected this idea but agreed to a second proposal to rebuild the stadium in its current location.
The $630 million Lakefront Improvement Plan agreed upon was funded by hotel tax and more than $200 million from the Bears and the NFL.
“When I think about it, this is probably the highlight of my career,” said Phillips, who has accomplished what George Halas and Michael McCasky failed in so many attempts. There were a lot of participants, working with political strategists, architects, three contractors, politicians, and different lawyers. It was an all-out job, 24-7 for a while. When I drive to Soldier Field sometimes, I still look at that place and say I can’t believe we’ve accomplished this. “
With his career winding down, Phillips spends most of his hours working at Beers’ next house as the main pitcher for a stadium in the suburbs of Arlington Heights. George McCaskey said that when the Bears were contacted about a bid on land formerly occupied by Arlington Park, Phillips researched the value of the land and led the Bears family through a complex bidding process. Since accepting the bid and signing the purchase sale agreement, Phillips has been responsible for due diligence and has collaborated with experts in corporate land procurement, stadium engineering, traffic and finance.
The intent is to close the property before Phillips retires, but Phillips and Makkasky note that there are many unknowns and challenges in determining whether or not the closure will occur.
McAskie said the new president will likely be responsible for following up on the new stadium, but not necessarily. “It depends on that person’s skill set,” he said.
It is also possible that Phillips will be retained as an advisor to the project. McAskie and Phillips both said they are open to the possibility but have not yet discussed it.
In January, the regulatory flow chart changed. In the past, general managers reported to Phillips. New General Manager Ryan Pauls reports to McCasky. When the change was announced, McAskie cited the Arlington Heights Project as the reason.
But there was more to it.
“The reality is that the team hasn’t been a consistent winner,” Phillips said. “So I spoke to George and told him we needed to make some changes in terms of football reporting, and the decision was made to make a change.”
During Phillips’ tenure, the Bears had 0.480 winning percentages and failed to make playoffs in 73 percent of their seasons. Phillips described the lack of a win as “my biggest disappointment”.
At times, fans and the media blamed Phillips for the Bears fight, but he did not make decisions about the players and was not involved. Hire people to make decisions about the players and then discuss their options with them.
“It was my role to be a sound board with the general manager, to provide resources to support the team,” he said. “We have relied on our General Managers to put in place the right structures and carry out the right assessments. The Achilles heel of the Bears for many decades has been having the right midfielder in his place who is not only talented, but can lead and raise the bar for the talent around him. In my opinion, having a different report About the head coach or general manager wouldn’t change any of that.”
The bears’ losses cannot be blamed on the facilities. Phillips was responsible for two significant renovations of Hallas Hall that gave the Bears a world-class home. In 2012, 30,000 square feet was added to the Lake Forest Building, which opened in 1997. Then, in 2019, nearly 200,000 square feet were added.
“Thanks to Ted’s efforts, we have one of the best facilities in the league,” McCaskey said.
When Phillips began working with the Beers family in 1983, he reported on the original Halas Hall, which cost about $98 million less to build than the last renovation of the new Halas Hall. It’s one of many ways to measure the organization’s progress during Phillips’ tenure. In his first year with the team, the Bears hired 50 people, including nine coaches. Now, the team employs about 250 people, including 25 coaches. The Beers family went from one training area (not counting the park below the block or the high schools they were commuting 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 their status on the field. Now, Forbes estimates the team is worth $5.8 billion.
“The growth has been amazing,” Phillips said. “It’s fun being a part of that. It means my job is different every day. You never know what’s coming next from finance to football to marketing to PR and from fan experiences to community relations.”
It was all beyond his imagination when he was hired by the Beers family on September 28, 1983. Phillips, a native of New Hampshire, graduated from Notre Dame in 1979 and took a job at the accounting firm Ernst & Winnie in Chicago. He was tasked with preparing the tax returns for George Halas, the McCasky family, and the Beers. That’s how Phillips met Bears general manager Jerry Veneci, who hired him as the team’s monitor.
When Vainisi was fired after the 1986 season, a void was created in the Bears front office. After several months of conversation, the Bears manager at the time, Bill McGrane, persuaded Phillips to ask Michael McAskie to make him responsible for negotiating player contracts even though Phillips had no experience in the role. McCasky took a chance on Phillips, raising him to the position of Director of Finance.
Phillips negotiated all Bears player contracts from 1987 through 2000 and learned about football management, often consulting with former Bears general manager Jim Phoenix, who was with the Saints at the time, and Giants general manager George Young. He was promoted to Vice President of Operations in 1993 and took on additional responsibilities to oversee football operations.
In early 1999, Michael McAskie failed to attempt to appoint David McGuinness as head coach. His mother, Virginia McCasky, later decided to replace Michael as the team leader. At a meeting at McCasky’s suburban home, Virginia and her husband, Ed Phillips, told they wanted him to succeed Michael.
On February 10, Phillips took over as president and CEO, making him the fourth president in the team’s history and the first not of the Halas dynasty.
Watching Phillips, the team hired general managers Jerry Angelo, Phil Emery and Ryan Pace, as well as head coaches Lovi Smith, Mark Triestman, John Fox and Matt Nagy.
Angelo was the first General Manager of Beers in 15 years. Phillips and Angelou worked well together for a decade when the Bears made four playoffs and one Super Bowl appearance and had a win percentage of 0.540. Phillips described Angelou’s years as the highlight of his tenure from a footballing point of view.
“The fact that I helped get Jerry on board, I’m really proud of that,” Phillips said. “I am forever grateful to Jerry for putting together a really strong team and bringing in Luffy and a good coaching staff. We’ve had some really good years.”
Phillips also left his mark on the league level. He serves as the chair of the NFL Employment Benefits Committee and is also a member of the Board’s Executive Committee Working Group, as well as the CBA Player Benefits Plans Committee.
As he prepares for the next stage, Phillips said he cherishes his friendships around the NFL and values relationships at Halas Hall. He credits the people he has worked with for everything that has been accomplished during his tenure.
He said, “I am very blessed.” “The McCaski family trusted me a lot. I feel like I am part of their family. A dream has truly come true to work for such a precious privilege and family with the most humble people you can imagine but at the same time have a strong desire to win football matches. It has been my career fun every day.”
(Photo: Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
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