By Chris Emma

By Chris Emma—

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (670 The Score) – Three Januarys ago, Ryan Pace walked into Halas Hall with a vision to turn around a charter franchise mired in futility.

The 37-year-old Pace was so confident and articulate in expressing his plan, the Bears’ brain trust of chairman George McCaskey and president Ted Phillips had Pace make a U-turn on his route back to the airport and hired him on the spot.

With just 14 wins and 34 losses to show since, the Bears still believe in Pace, proving that by awarding him a two-year contract extension Monday, the same day they fired John Fox as head coach. McCaskey and Phillips signed off Pace’s decision late Sunday to make a coaching change, then came back the next morning and locked Pace in through 2021.

The deal will help ensure continuity in Pace’s hiring of the Bears’ next head coach but goes well beyond that too. With McCaskey and Phillips remaining in their positions and no additions or subtractions to the front office, they empowered Pace to define the franchise’s future with only belief, not results, to back that decision.

“When we hired Ryan, we saw the key characteristics of successful general managers in him,” Phillips said in announcing the extension. “We feel he has exhibited those traits in his three years as general manager. He’s had leadership skills. He shows a clear vision of how to put together a winning team.”

Black Monday in Chicago saw Fox serve as merely the fall guy for one of the darkest three-year stretches in Bears history. Up the road, the rival Packers – against whom the Bears measure themselves – removed Ted Thompson as general manager after missing the playoffs for just the second time in his 12-year tenure. That’s the standard in Green Bay, and the Packers fell short.

The Bears are in a drastically different world, still searching for semblances of hope for their uncertain future. Pace will identify coaching candidates with McCaskey and Phillips serving as “support resources” in the process. Though the 14-34 record is every bit Pace’s failure, too – something he acknowledged Monday – the blame fell on Fox.

With the blessing of his bosses, Pace, 40, will lead the Bears forward to what they can only hope are better days. In making a rare media appearance, Pace spoke of the foundation the Bears have established in three years.

“We have a young core coming up that’s developing,” Pace said. “We just need to continue to add to that. There’s some key positions that are going to take priority this offseason. I feel really good about the resources that we have – healthy cap, top-10 pick, seven draft picks. We just need to attack it the right way.”

Pace has a mixed draft record to this point, with hits like Eddie Goldman, Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen, and misses like Kevin White, Deoindre’ Hall and Deon Bush. He has struck big with Akiem Hicks and Danny Trevathan in free agency but failed miserably with Mike Glennon, Markus Wheaton and Marcus Cooper.

The Bears have endured major roster turnover since Pace’s arrival, overhauling one of the league’s oldest roster and adding building blocks to the youthful mix. He ultimately will be attached to quarterback Mitchell Trubisky – for whom he traded a haul to the 49ers in April to move up one spot – just as much as the next head coaching hire, and Pace essentially bought himself more time with that draft pick.

Ultimately, the record of Pace is fairly cut and dry. He has the same .292 winning percentage that got Fox fired. It could’ve been a day with more change, but instead the Bears are putting the burden on Pace to create something different and better.

Perhaps Pace can identify the ideal head coaching candidate to develop Trubisky into a star quarterback –the Sean McVay to his Jared Goff, if you will – and secure a supporting cast with which he can be successful. Maybe Pace will further fortify a young defense with more difference-making pieces that they’ve missed the last three years. McCaskey and Phillips better hope they’re right.

For all the rhetoric that came Black Monday, the closing remarks from Phillips resonated more than ever.

“I want to make a comment to our fans,” he said. “We understand. We feel their frustration. And we owe them more. And we’re committed to delivering a team for them to be proud of.

“And with that, I’ll turn it over to Ryan Pace.”

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670 The Score 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670 and like his Facebook page.

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