By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) Chicago Bears chairman George McCaskey is too easy to doubt.
He looks like he’s a pair of aviator sunglasses shy of being the uncreative dork who dresses up as a Superfan on Halloween. It’s easy to pick on his looks because we’ve run out of other things to hate. His is the current face of almost 30 years of failure, and we’re still smarting from the most recent general manager/head coach combo fiasco.
And yet, after the hiring of Ryan Pace as just the sixth GM in Bears franchise history on Thursday, McCaskey deserves the benefit of the doubt.
Oh, and there sure was some doubt. After the press conference regarding the recent decapitations, it really felt like “Meet the new Bears, same as the Old Bears.” Along with team president and central casting hire for a RICO trial Ted Phillips, McCaskey was at the mic saying they needed to hire a consultant — and a septuagenarian NFL good ol’ boy at that in Ernie Accorsi — while at the same time declaring that he and persona non grata Phillips, not the consultant, would be making the final choice.
Chris Ballard, the leader in the clubhouse up until the Pace news broke, held Old Bear connections. He worked at Halas Hall for 12 years before heading to the Kansas City Chiefs. While here he was a scout and scouting director under Jerry Angelo and Phil Emery. He was, basically then, a less-spectacled, more-bearded Emery. And to doubt what seemed to be the likely choice was completely reasonable because to doubt the Old Bears is completely reasonable because the Old Bears ain’t won a damn thing.
This feeling was despite the brief surge of confidence in Bears ownership for the swift and very un-McCaskey canning of both Emery and Trestman with extreme prejudice. George was visibly pissed off and told us his mom, Virginia, the sweet little old lady matriarch, was really pissed off, too. That was not Old Bears.
And then ownership again went unlikely.
Pace is not Old Bears. He’s young at just 37 years old — the youngest GM in the league, actually. But he worked with the Saints for 14 years previously, and no matter how old you are, if you’ve worked for the same organization for 14 years, you probably know what you’re doing and do it well.
Pace is one of those oh-so-typable stories of a guy starting as a veritable nothing in pro organization right out of college and doing anything and everything to work his way up. The Colts made Ryan Grigson the youngest GM at age 39 three years ago, and the Colts have had 11 wins each year since. (Or maybe it’s just that first name Ryan…)
Despite not being an overly popular name, Pace’s reputation leaguewide is extremely positive …
#Saints will miss Ryan Pace. You could tell both Mickey Loomis and Sean Payton valued him greatly. Promoted twice during current era.— Mike Triplett (@MikeTriplett) January 8, 2015
Ryan Pace is a major loss for the #Saints organization, the most talented young talent evaluator in the building. Great hire by Bears.— Jeff Duncan (@JeffDuncan_) January 8, 2015
Have heard nothing but positive things for quite a while about new Bears GM Ryan Pace. Bright young executive— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) January 8, 2015
… and he wowed in his interview so much that he unseeded the heavy favorite in Ballard and was hired the very next day. I don’t want to get too overly optimistic because I drank the Trestman/Emery Kool-Aid a few years ago myself, but this seems different. And not chemical-fire-at-the-panda-sanctuary different that the Emery and Trestman hires ending up being.
“The thing that really sticks out in my mind is his passion for what he’s doing,” said Rick Reiprish, Saints director of college scouting. “He’s in the office early, stays late and does whatever he has to do to get the job done. If it’s an evaluation, if it’s a phone call, if it’s a report, it doesn’t matter. Ryan is a guy who gets it done. He has that natural passion for his job, and absolutely that’s contagious.”
Pace is a guy who comes from not only a winning organization in New Orleans — one that was not winning 15 years ago — but one that has been an NFC power for a while despite huge curveballs like Bountygate and Hurricane Katrina. And his most important endorsement comes from Saints coach and fellow Eastern Illinois University grad Sean Payton.
“He’s really good at what he does,” Payton told reporters recently. “He’s a big part of what we do. Guys like him, they’re talented. He’s very talented. I know that he’s been promoted here, deservedly so, a few times. I know this, I get fired up when he comes to see me first thing this morning and his mind’s already racing.”
Payton has captained a championship-caliber ship that has been much the opposite of the Chicago Bears the last decade. It’s also a ship that Ryan Pace helped build.
So while we can doubt George McCaskey’s decision to go with that mustache, of late he seems to show genuine desire to break from the reputation of Old Bears because that reputation is one of underachieving Ditkas and win-nothing Urlachers and folly and failure. He wants to win, and being different — not for different’s sake but the sake of a new approach to how the entire organization does football — seems to be the best route.
And that isn’t so easy to doubt.
Tim Baffoe is a columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @TimBaffoe.