LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) — Kevin Warren is ready to tackle a new challenge as president and CEO of the Chicago Bears, and he has a big one going from Big Ten commissioner to leading a founding NFL franchise.
A new suburban stadium could be on the horizon. The team owns the No. 1 pick in the draft coming off one of the worst seasons in franchise history.
And he’s looking forward to working with general manager Ryan Poles and coach Matt Eberflus.
“It’s because of the challenge, the opportunity,” Warren said Tuesday at his introductory news conference. “I trust Ryan, I trust Coach Matt that we’re going to do things the right way. We’re not going to take shortcuts. We’re going to build an incredible franchise. I came here to win championships.”
He said he’s a “big believer in challenges” and wouldn’t have wanted the job “if it were easy.” He also predicted: “Greatness is ahead of us. All we need to do now is go and grasp it.”
Warren, who replaces the retiring Ted Phillips, is scheduled to start his new job in April, though chairman George McCaskey said that timeframe could be moved up as long as the Big Ten can make “a seamless transition.” He also said Phillips has agreed to stay on past his Feb. 28 retirement date “to make sure there’s a seamless transition here.”
Warren said he’s already begun work in his new job. He was hired as Chicago’s fifth president and the first from outside the organization last week.
He goes from becoming the first Black commissioner of a Power Five conference to the first Black president of the Bears. He is the team’s second president that was not part of the Halas-McCaskey family tree, joining Phillips.
“Papa Bear is smiling today,” McCaskey said, referring to his grandfather and team founder George Halas.
Warren’s No. 1 task is helping the Bears construct a new enclosed stadium, assuming they finalize the purchase of a 326-acre tract of land in suburban Arlington Heights and decide to move. The Bears hope to close that deal in the first quarter of this year.
He also is joining an organization with the No. 1 pick in the draft following one of the worst seasons in franchise history. The Bears went 3-14, the most losses ever for “The Monsters of the Midway.”
The Bears are going back to their former chain of command, with Poles reporting to Warren. Poles, hired a year ago, had been reporting to McCaskey. But previous general managers were under Phillips.
Poles said he’s fine with the arrangement and “fired up” about working with the team’s new president.
Warren said becoming an NFL owner is “not necessarily” a goal of his. He also insisted he doesn’t see this as a steppingstone to being the league’s commissioner.
“There’s a lot to be done here,” he said. “Last thing I can do is to be looking over the horizon at another job. No. If you talk to anyone like in Minnesota I’m totally in, the Big Ten I’m totally in, I’m totally in with the Bears.”
As for leaving the Big Ten?
“I just felt it was the right time,” he said. “I had done what I was called there to be able to do.”
Warren, a lawyer and former sports agent, worked in the NFL for more than two decades, doing stints with the St. Louis Rams and Detroit Lions before settling in with Minnesota in 2005. He was the Vikings’ chief operating officer from 2015 to 2019, before being hired to replace Jim Delany as Big Ten commissioner.
Warren played a big role in Minnesota’s construction of U.S. Bank Stadium, which opened in 2016. With its translucent roof and massive glass panels letting in enough light and air to make fans feel as if they’re outdoors, the Bears see it as a model for their potential new home.
The Bears want to turn the Arlington Heights site, once a jewel of thoroughbred racing, into a different kind of gem, with restaurants, retail and year-round activity — all for about $5 billion, with some taxpayer help. They plan to pay for their stadium but want taxpayer dollars to cover infrastructure costs such as roads and sewers to develop the site.
Warren helped give the Big Ten a coast-to-coast footprint in the nation’s largest markets with the announcement in July that Southern California and UCLA will join in 2024. The conference also landed about $7 billion in media rights deals a month later with FOX, CBS and NBC to share the rights to football and basketball games. The contracts go into effect in 2023 and expire in 2030.
Warren also drew sharp criticism early in his tenure as Big Ten commissioner when he initially called off 2020 fall football season because of the COVID-19 pandemic, a move that was ultimately reversed with the league playing an abbreviated schedule. Ohio State star Justin Fields — now Chicago’s quarterback — started a petition that got 280,000 signatures in three days.
“I know if I was in the Big Ten and someone did what I did, yeah, I would’ve led a revolt to be able to play,” Warren said.