Ted Phillips will retire at the end of the 2022 season after 23 years as president and CEO of the Chicago Bears and 39 years on the team’s front office, marking the end of the team’s thriving era. fields but not consistent.
Last fall, Phillips, 65, told team president George McCaskey he was considering retirement. After a series of discussions, Phillips decided to step down in February next year.
“When COVID came, it changed a lot of dynamics and gave me some time to reflect on my life, my work life,” Phillips said in an exclusive interview sports“I came to the conclusion that, gosh, almost 40 years is a long time. Time to hand over the baton and give yourself the gift of time. You know how this business can be, a lot of time and time away from family “I just turned 65. I feel good. I’m in good shape. I feel like it’s time to slow down and do what I want.”
McCaskey said his main feeling about Phillips’ tenure with the Bears is gratitude.
Asked what stood out about Phillips’ performance, McCaskey said: “His humility. His intelligence. His consensus building. His steady hand. He refused to be too high or too low. Always a great leader for the Bears. Unbeatable is the word that pops into my head.”
The search for a successor has begun. McCaskey, Phillips and Tanesha Wade, senior vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion, have been in discussions with executive search firm Nolan Partners.
Potential internal replacements may include Scott Hagel, senior vice president of marketing and communications, and Cliff Stein, senior vice president and legal counsel. McCaskey said he would not identify possible candidates at this time.
The transformation of Soldier Field nearly 20 years ago was Phillips’ crowning achievement. In the 1990s, the Bears found themselves in an antiquated stadium with no revenue stream comparable to other stadium team trades. Without a new home, the bears may have to take drastic measures to ensure survival.
The reconstruction of Soldier Field has significantly improved the Bears’ profitability and provided the team with the first satisfactory football-only stadium in 100 years.
Known for his people skills and easy, hearty laugh, Phillips solved the stadium’s woes by building trust with then-Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daly. Phillips and Daly found common ground in their love for the Bears. They talked about the players, the game and the coach, and where they would be playing. Phillips then asked the McCaskeys to allow him to sign a five-year extension on his below-market lease at Soldier Field. On the surface, it was a step backward for the Bears — but it paid off because it set the tone for a mutually beneficial relationship between the team and the city.
Originally, Phillips proposed tearing down the old Soldier Field, while leaving the iconic colonnades and building a new stadium in the South Parking Lot. Daly rejected the idea but accepted a second proposal to rebuild the stadium in its existing location.
The agreed-upon $630 million lakefront improvement plan is funded by hotel taxes and more than $200 million from the Bears and the NFL.
“When I think about it, it’s probably the highlight of my career,” said Phillips, who accomplished what George Harrah and Michael McCaskey failed to do in countless attempts. “Working with political strategists, architects, three contractors, politicians, different lawyers, it was a lot involved. For a while, it was an all-encompassing, 24-7 hour job. Sometimes when I was driving to Soldier Field I still look at that place and say I can’t believe we got this done.”
As his career came to an end, Phillips spent most of his time at the Bears’ next home as the superintendent of the Arlington Heights suburban stadium. When the Bears were approached to bid on the land formerly occupied by Arlington Park, Phillips researched the value of the land and led the Bears through a complex bidding process, George McCaskey said. Since their bid was accepted and the sale and purchase agreement signed, Phillips has been in charge of rights due diligence and has engaged with experts in the company’s land purchase, stadium construction, transport and financing.
The aim is to close the property before Phillips retires, but Phillips and McCaskey said there were too many unknowns and challenges to determine if or when to close.
McCaskey said a new president may be in charge of the construction of the new stadium, but not necessarily. “It depends on that person’s skills,” he said.
It is also possible that Phillips will be retained as a consultant on the project. Both McCaskey and Phillips said they were open to the possibility, but have not discussed it.
In January, the organizational flowchart changed. In the past, the general manager reported to Phillips. New general manager Ryan Poles reports to McCaskey. When the change was announced, McCaskey cited the Arlington Heights project as a reason.
But there is more.
“The reality is that this team is not a consistent winner,” Phillips said. “So I talked to George and told him we needed to make some changes in football coverage and decided to make changes.”
Under Phillips, the Bears have a .480 winning percentage and fail to make the playoffs 73 percent of the time. Phillips called the lack of a win “my biggest disappointment.”
Fans and the media sometimes blame Phillips for the Bears’ struggles, but he never makes decisions about players and isn’t a nosy. He hires these people to make decisions for the players and then discusses their options with them.
“My role is to be the general manager’s sounding board and provide resources to the team,” he said. “We relied on our general manager to have the right structure and have the right evaluation process in place. For decades, the Achilles’ heel of the Bears has been having the right quarterback who is not only talented, but can lead and improve the talent around him Level. In my opinion, having the head coach or general manager report differently doesn’t change that.”
The Bears’ loss cannot be blamed on the facility. Phillips oversaw two major renovations to Harrah’s Hall, providing the Bears with a world-class home. In 2012, the Lake Forest building, which opened in 1997, added 30,000 square feet. Then in 2019, nearly 200,000 square feet were added.
“We have one of the best facilities in the league because of Ted,” McCaskey said.
When Phillips started working for the Bears in 1983, he reported to the original Harrah’s Hall, which was built for about $98 million less than the newly renovated new Harrah’s Hall. It’s one of many ways to measure organizational progress during Phillips’ tenure. In his first year with the team, the Bears employed 50 employees, including nine coaches. Now, the team employs about 250 people, including 25 coaches. The Bears went from having one practice range (not counting the park down the block or the high school they ride 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 because of their stadium conditions. Now, Forbes estimates the team is worth $5.8 billion.
“The rate of growth has been phenomenal,” Phillips said. “It’s been fun to be involved. It means that every day my job is different. You never know what’s going to happen next, from finance to football, from marketing to public relations, from fan experience to community relations.”
When he was hired by the Bears on September 28, 1983, it was more than he could have imagined. A native of New Hampshire, Phillips graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 1979 and worked for Ernst and Whinney in Chicago. He was assigned to prepare tax returns for George Harrah, the McCaskey family and the Bears. That’s how Phillips met Bears general manager Jerry Vanessi, who hired him as the team’s controller.
When Vainisi was fired after the 1986 season, a vacancy arose in the Bears’ front office. After months of talks, then-Bears executive Bill McGran convinced Phillips to put Michael McCaskey in charge of negotiating player contracts, even though Phillips had no experience in the role. McCaskey took Phillips’ chance and promoted him to finance director.
From 1987 to 2000, Phillips negotiated all player contracts for the Bears and studied football management, often consulting with former Bears GM Jim Finks and Giants GM George, who were playing for the Saints at the time Young. In 1993, he was promoted to Vice President of Operations and took on the additional responsibility of overseeing football operations.
In early 1999, Michael McCaskey tried unsuccessfully to hire David McGinnis as head coach. His mother, Virginia McCaskey, then decided to succeed Michael as team president. At their suburban home in McCaskey, Virginia and her husband Ed told Phillips they wanted him to succeed Michael.
On February 10, Phillips became president and CEO, making him the fourth president in franchise history and the first non-Harrahs president.
During Phillips’ tenure, the team hired general managers Jerry Angelo, Phil Emery and Ryan Pace, as well as head coaches Lowe Smith, Mark Tresterman, John Fox and Ma T Nagy.
Angelo is the Bears’ first general manager in 15 years. Phillips and Angelo worked together for a decade, when the Bears made the playoffs four times and went to the Super Bowl once, with a .540 winning percentage. From a football perspective, Phillips called the Angelo era the highlight of his tenure.
“I’m really proud of the fact that I helped Jerry get on the boat,” Phillips said. “I am forever grateful to Jerry for putting together a very strong team and bringing in Lowe and a great coaching staff. We’ve had a very good few years.”
Phillips also left his footprint at the league level. He is Chairman of the NFL Employment Benefits Committee and a member of the Executive Committee Working Group of the Governing Council and the CBA Player Benefit Program Committee.
As he prepares for the next phase, Phillips said he cherishes his friendships around the NFL and values his relationship at Halas Hall. He credits the people with whom he has worked for all that he has accomplished during his tenure.
“I’m lucky,” he said. “The McCaskey family has always trusted me a lot. I feel like a part of their family. Honestly, working for such a precious team and a family with the most humble people you can imagine is a dream come true , but at the same time a strong desire to win football games. I am happy every day of my career.”
(Photo: Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)