New president/CEO Kevin Warren preparing to lead Bears with new perspective
LAKE FOREST, Ill. — Hours before the sun would rise on a new day for the Chicago Bears franchise, Kevin Warren was already awake and active. Each day for him is filled with strict routine, starting with a workout.
Warren would consume nothing but water throughout the course of Tuesday at Halas Hall as he was introduced as the Bears’ new president and CEO inside the George “Mugs” Halas Auditorium in Lake Forest. He is currently 15 days into a 40-day fast that includes only water and a dinner in the evening.
On a Sunday in the fall, Warren is in church before putting on his “game day uniform,” a carefully pressed suit, and arriving hours early to the stadium.
For Warren, life has been regimented ever since the age of 11 when everything changed for him.
Warren was hit by a car while riding a bicycle to a Tempe, Arizona school, where he was headed to play pickup basketball with friends. He spent eight months in traction and a body cast and his mind racing with fear of uncertainty. But as Warren recovered physically, he also found peace and perspective that still drives him to this day.
“I know this sounds crazy,” Warren said. “I would not change it for anything. I honestly believe I wouldn’t be sitting here today but for that accident.”
The Bears officially hired Warren as their fifth team president and CEO, making him just the second individual who does not hail from the Halas or McCaskey family to serve in this position and the first tabbed from outside of the organization. The Bears interviewed more than 20 candidates, utilizing Nolan Partners as a search firm, and came to a belief in what Warren could offer for a franchise focused on significant growth to come.
Since January 2020 the 59-year-old Warren served as Big Ten commissioner, enduring challenges during his time in charge while also navigating towards continued growth. Warren elected to cancel the Big Ten’s football season in August of 2020 before reversing course one month later and forming an abbreviated eight-game season. He was met by criticism from conference athletic directors, administrators, coaches and even players like then-Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields.
But Warren’s tenure was also marked by important strides in diversity and social justice for the Big Ten, western expansion with USC and UCLA, and a $7 billion media rights deal. As the opportunity to lead the Bears emerged last year with the looming retirement of Ted Phillips, Warren was a leading candidate and saw great opportunity.
For Warren, who spent more than two decades in the NFL before becoming Big Ten commissioner, there was a fit with the Bears. They found a natural and forward-thinking leader.
“Papa Bear is smiling today,” Bears chairman George McCaskey said Tuesday as he introduced Warren. “He knows there is plenty of work to do on the field, but I’m confident he would be pleased with the handing of the baton from one accomplished executive to another to continue the stewardship of his beloved Bears.
“Kevin possesses the qualities that we were looking for in our next president and CEO: Leadership, vision, intelligence, decisiveness, humility, a team player, an effective communicator, someone who understands what the Bears are all about and who can re-energize our staff to get us where we want to go.”
Warren is expected to officially step in as the Bears’ new president and CEO in April, a period that would allow him to see through much of the Big Ten’s academic and athletic calendars. But Warren has already begun forming his plans at Halas Hall. He is set to lead the team’s planned closing on the 326-acre property at Arlington Park, the site of a state-of-the-art new stadium and entertainment district. Warren led the Vikings’ construction and completion of U.S. Bank Stadium in the Downtown West district of Minneapolis during his time as the team’s chief operating officer.
Warren will also oversee the Bears’ football operations led by second-year general manager Ryan Poles and head coach Matt Eberflus, this amid a pivotal offseason for the team. After a 3-14 campaign in 2022, Chicago owns the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft and more than $118 million in salary cap space.
“There’s a ton of knowledge there that’s going to help us,” Poles said of Warren. “Everyone’s got blind spots and when you have someone from a different background that’s been through a couple different organizations, they can give you a little bit of information if maybe there’s a blind spot that you didn’t see. Challenging you on your decisions to make sure, just to make sure you’re making sound decisions.
“His background, his presence, his value of people, how he’s just really humble guy too. That’s big for me because I think we’ve got a really good thing where, like, no one’s running around shouting their titles out. We’re just working to achieve our common goals.”
During his first job in the NFL with the Rams, Warren was part of the team’s rise to a Super Bowl championship in late January of 2000. He was reminded by Hall of Fame head coach Dick Vermeil that every championship ring awarded to those in the Rams organization – from superstar quarterback Kurt Warner to a young executive like Warren – looked exactly the same.
Warren has carried that forward in positions of leadership and is now bringing that philosophy to the Bears. He is preparing to meet with every member of the organization in alphabetical order rather than by the hierarchy of titles, a plan that will allow him to find value in every employee and their ideas.
Every detail matters to Warren. They have since his life changed forever at the age of 11 and through a remarkable rise that has now brought him into leadership of a charter NFL franchise.
Warren is preparing to lead the Bears with a new perspective towards goals of becoming great.
“You could take an average person with average talent and make them exceptional if they’re focused on the details,” Warren said. “And what I expect here is the same thing. I would never ask anyone who works in this building to do anything that I don’t do myself. We just have to focus on the details. Because if you get enough people, from staff to coaches to scouts to your head coach to your general manager to our fans to our players to our ownership to our alumni, just getting a little bit better on the details, getting a little bit better, what you can get there is really, really special.
“I love that statue with George Halas out front, and something that I will ask myself every morning walking in this building is that if he were with me, would he be proud? And then when I walk out at night, if he had been with me during the day, would he be proud? If I can make sure that 365 days a year that the answer is yes and yes, we’ll be OK.
“That’s just how I approach life. Whatever you’re doing, be passionate about it. If you’re passionate and you have attention to detail and you have a heart of gratitude and you’re thankful and you recognize that every day is a gift from God, you’re going to do some special stuff together.”