Lost in all of the excitement of sweeping changes at Halas Hall since the season ended a month ago is the fact that Ted Phillips has remained outside all the festivities. Aside from an appearance when the team fired its last head coach and GM, Phillips has been nowhere to be found. Perhaps team chairman George McCaskey really does give a you-know-what about the Bears and the team’s image and perception.
Let’s face it, under Matt Nagy and Ryan Pace, the Bears had become the butt of jokes by fans, reporters, and national television announcers. There’s no doubt that the organizational changes were welcome news for fans of the Navy Blue and Orange. The absence of Phillips throughout the process, however, may be a whole lot bigger.
There have been rumors for months that the team president and CEO could retire in a few years. Adam Jahns of The Athletic reported in December 2021 that Phillips could stick around to assist with the team’s acquisition and development plans of the Arlington Heights property. Jahns also suggested he could handle the fiscal side of things while removing himself from football operations entirely:
“Retirement is thought to be on the table in the near future for Phillips, who was promoted to his current position in 1999”, said Jahns in the article. “Phillips’ potential departure could be the driving force behind changing how the Bears function. But there is a new wrinkle, albeit an extremely important one, on the table for McCaskey: the Bears’ potential move to Arlington Heights and the building of a new stadium. The Bears arguably need Phillips for what’s next for their franchise as a business, even if he shifts into an advisory role. Phillips could also temporarily remain in charge of the Bears’ business operations while leaving the football side.”
McCaskey described the potential Arlington Heights development as “a full-time initiative,” one in which the organization is “adding vendors and outside experts to help evaluate.”
Phillips is an important figure regarding any future stadium plans. He helped orchestrate its $197 million purchase and will personally deliver the property to the McCaskey family once the sale is finalized. In fact, the City of Chicago could be ceding the organization to the new site in Arlington Heights, though Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she intends to make an attractive enough proposal to keep the Bears at Soldier Field.
On @mullyhaugh, Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot said the city is still holding hope to keep the #Bears from moving to Arlington Park and preparing plans on how to enhance Soldier Field. https://t.co/n8HupDSkaY pic.twitter.com/yQh2b91JaS
— 670 The Score (@670TheScore) February 11, 2022
Phillips was instructed to submit a wishlist of sorts to the Office of the Mayor and the Park District Commission. Instead, the team president specifically addressed improving the team’s existing lease, known as a permit and operating agreement, or POA. That deal is due to expire in 2033, and the Bears are reportedly seeking greater control of revenue distribution resulting from home games played at Soldier Field. Lightfoot’s response is to build a better campus surrounding the stadium.
In separate statements, both parties said discussions are ongoing, though nothing has been decided. However, the Bears could move quickly on the suburban property once the sale is completed, which may or may not include breaking their current lease to play at Soldier Field.
As far as football operations are concerned, however, the front office belongs to Poles only. Once he hired assistant GM Ian Cunningham, McCaskey effectively pushed Phillips aside. Let’s face it, Phillips has been in way over his head since 1999. It’s easy to dislike the executive, but it was Virginia McCaskey who put the CEO in a position to fail, and it was the entire family who has enabled Phillips by not replacing him.
Since 1999 and under his stead, the Bears have finished with a winning record just six times in 22 seasons. Phillips has presided over four general managers, including defacto GM Mark Hatley (1997-2001), and six head coaches. The closest the Bears have been to a dominating team during his tenure was when Lovie Smith lead the Bears to a Super Bowl 15 years ago. Chicago has had just one winning season since Phillips fired Smith with a 10-6 record after the 2012 season.
It would be incorrect to place the entirety of the organization’s failures on the shoulders of Phillips, but the deterioration of the once-proud franchise starts at the top. In that respect, the McCaskeys are just as much to blame as Phillips. For far too long, George McCaskey managed the organization to the apathy of which it displayed for two-plus decades. Things appear to be changing, though. At least the Bears look like a real NFL team these days. Hopefully, winning seasons will follow.