By Chris Emma-
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (CBS) — Fourteen years ago, it started with a résumé, an application and $50 entrance to a job fair. Ryan Pace was determined to earn his chance in the NFL.READ MORE: Woman Dead After Being Stabbed On South Wacker Drive Downtown
Pace drove his beat-up car nearly 11 hours and 750 miles from the campus of Eastern Illinois down to New Orleans, carrying a suitcase, a résumé and a dream. Had the Saints not picked Pace out of hundreds of applicants, perhaps he wouldn’t have been standing at Halas Hall as the Bears’ new general manager Friday. But he was willing to do the dirty work — serving as a glorified errand boy and eventually becoming director of player personnel.
At just 37 years young, Pace is now an NFL general manager, and that dream has been realized.
“I’m really proud of the path that I took,” Pace said on Friday as the Bears introduced him as the new leader of their football operations.
Reviews of Pace’s work with the Saints were glowing. New Orleans GM Mickey Loomis, coach Sean Payton and countless Saints players lauded his constant work ethic. On Thursday evening, Bears president Ted Phillips got a call from Loomis.
“You son of a gun, I can’t believe you took my guy,” Loomis told Phillips.
Pace was truly valued in New Orleans, where he helped bring the Saints from laughable to Super Bowl champions following the 2009 season. He was an important piece of their pristine puzzle.
The Bears organization is currently a puzzle with hundreds of pieces blown away in a tornado. The conundrum of big-money quarterback Jay Cutler is a puzzle piece. So are loudmouth Brandon Marshall, broken-down Lance Briggs, misplaced Shea McClellin and many more.
It’s Pace’s task to solve it.
“He has total control over the football operations — how he wants to structure the department, the people he might want to keep, new people he might want to bring in,” Phillips said. “His whole plan, it’s his call.”READ MORE: At Least 2 Killed, 18 Wounded In Weekend Shootings In Chicago
That’s right; there will be no interference at the top. Pace can hire and fire whomever he wishes, from the coaches to the equipment staff to the trainers and water boys.
This hit home with Pace. He turned down an interview from the Jets because he wouldn’t be in full control. Even after 14 years of fighting for a GM job, he wasn’t willing to settle. The Bears brass realized the error of its ways by intruding in the football operations. Chairman George McCaskey and Phillips aren’t football guys and have no business making those important decisions.
Chicago brought in the right fit. This was where he would realize that dream as a football boss, build a team the way he desires and work toward winning another Super Bowl.
“This is a dream,” Pace said. “You only get one first shot, so you better be right.
“I feel it here.”
With that exuberance, Pace blew away the Bears in his interview. The Chiefs’ Chris Ballard was presumed to be the front-runner, but Pace was the most impressive candidate. He outlined an idea of rebuilding in win-now mode, something that resonated with a franchise desperate to succeed. They trusted him because of his successful track record as a scout, the turnaround of the Saints that he helped and that tireless work ethic he exuded along the way.
“His plan just stood out,” McCaskey said. “The thoroughness of his presentation, a very charismatic individual himself. As he said, he’s leading the charge.”
Friday marked the beginning of a new direction for the Bears. Gone is Phil Emery, whose “I’m the smartest guy in the room” mentality failed the organization. So is Marc Trestman, the listless leader of men who lost all control of his team. McCaskey and Phillips are still technically superiors to Pace, but there will be no meddling in the football operations.
Bears football is now operated by Pace, the promising young mind who has dazzled with each job, from intern to executive.
Had it not been for a $50 job fair in New Orleans, fate may not have led Pace to this special day he’ll forever cherish.MORE NEWS: Woman Shot, Wounded On North Avenue On Cusp Of Humboldt Park, Logan Square
Follow Chris on Twitter @CEmma670.