CHICAGO - The Bears have interviewed Big Ten president Kevin Warren, who is considered a finalist for their soon-to-be vacant president/CEO position, a source confirmed Thursday afternoon.
Before joining the Big Ten in 2019, Warren served as the Vikings’ chief operating officer when they built U.S. Bank Stadium. Some inside Halas Hall consider the Vikings’ stadium to be the ideal blueprint for a possible new stadium in Arlington Heights.
The Bears are in escrow on the 326-acre former Arlington International Racecourse property and hope to close on it in early 2023, right around the time president/CEO Ted Phillips’ tenure ends on Feb. 28. They want to build a stadium on the land, alongside hotels, restaurants and shops.
Phillips announced in September that he planned on retiring after 23 years in his role. The Bears are expected to hire his replacement before then, perhaps to allow Phillips to help with the transition.
Phillips himself has been involved in the search for his replacement. McCaskey, Phillips and Tanesha Wade, the Bears’ senior vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion, have been interviewing candidates for the job.
"We have not set a timeline for announcing Ted Phillips’ successor," the Bears said in a statement Thursday. "Our search team has cast a wide net, spoke to many outstanding candidates and looks forward to introducing our next President and CEO at the process’s conclusion."
Warren — the first African-American to be named a Power Five college commissioner — postponed the 2020 Big Ten football season because of the coronavirus. He faced pushback from, among others, then-Ohio State star Justin Fields, who is now the Bears’ quarterback. Fields started a petition to reinstate football and other fall sports. A month later, the Big Ten did just that.
In June, Warren led a paradigm-shifting expansion of the league. UCLA and USC will leave the Pac-12 for the Big Ten, which is based in Rosemont, in 2024.
In a statement, the Big Ten said Warren "regularly receives unique opportunities and interest for his expertise" and "uses each occurrence to listen, learn and assist every stakeholder."
A 1990 Notre Dame Law School graduate, Warren served as an agent — his first client was former Bears defensive tackle Chris Zorich — before joining the St. Louis Rams as legal counsel in 1997. He was named the Lions’ senior vice president of business operations and general counsel in 2001. In 2005, after a two-year stint with a law firm, he joined the Vikings, where he stayed for 14 years. He was named COO in 2015.
Warren would represent a considerable shift in philosophy for the Bears, in that he came from outside Halas Hall. Phillips is only the fourth president in Bears history — and the first that wasn’t related to founder George Halas.
His son "Mugs" Halas held the job after "Papa Bear," followed by grandson Michael McCaskey. Phillips replaced McCaskey after serving as vice president of operations from 1993-99, finance director from 1987-93 and controller from 1983-87.
Phillips said in September he was open to sticking around in a consulting role after retirement.
"It’s hard to say no when you’ve been somewhere for 40 years," he told the Sun-Times.
McCaskey said then that the Bears had no plans to restructure their front office with a football czar. Rather, they wanted someone to do what Phillips did — run business operations. Phillips said he planned to "explain all the ins and outs" of the stadium issue to his successor.
McCaskey said in September he didn’t necessarily need a president with experience building a stadium, hoping that they would be able to hire someone with that expertise to work underneath them. McCaskey said the Bears didn’t want to "get locked into a quote-unquote football person or a quote-unquote businessperson." Rather, he detailed the traits he was looking for in a new president.
"Leadership, vision, humility, consensus-building," McCaskey said. "You look at the qualities of outstanding leaders, and we think we’re going to be able to bring in an exceptional candidate to succeed Ted and lead the Bears."