The Chicago Bears announced the hiring of Ryan Poles as their new general manager Tuesday, and he immediately joined the search for the 17th coach in franchise history, a decision that will affect his tenure as much as the next few seasons.
The 36-year-old Poles comes from the Kansas City Chiefs, where he rose through the ranks to become executive director of player personnel. The Bears moved to hire him on the spot hours after video of Chairman George McCaskey picking up Poles at O’Hare International Airport spread on social media.
A former offensive lineman at Boston College, Poles signed with the Bears as an undrafted free agent in 2008 after a tryout at rookie minicamp when they wanted to ensure a torn Achilles tendon suffered during his senior year had healed. Poles passed the test and appeared in three preseason games before being waived.
He returned to school to become a recruiting assistant and got his foot in the door in the NFL when then-Chiefs GM Scott Pioli hired him as a scouting assistant in 2009. Poles quickly became the college scouting coordinator under Phil Emery, who was the Chiefs college scouting director before the Bears hired him as their GM in 2012.
During a nearly 13-year stay with the Chiefs, Poles worked with a wide variety of coaches, including Todd Haley, Romeo Crennel, Doug Pederson, Brad Childress, Dave Toub, Nick Sirianni, Steve Spagnuolo, Emmitt Thomas, David Culley, Matt Nagy and, of course, Andy Reid. On the personnel side, he worked with John Dorsey, Brett Veach, Chris Ballard and Ray Farmer along with Piolo and Emery.
Now Poles must lean on that experience to help guide a decision in a process that already started. The Bears search committee headed by Bill Polian has been busy meeting with coaching candidates.
Multiple sources who worked with Poles lauded him for his ability as a talent evaluator and communicator and said he’s humble, approachable and smart. Now he’s headlong into a process he never has been part of.
Former Indianapolis Colts and Detroit Lions coach Jim Caldwell reportedly was at Halas Hall for a second interview Tuesday. Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus and Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn are scheduled to have second interviews Wednesday.
Poles was the first GM candidate to get a second interview and Caldwell was the first coaching candidate to be called in, so that could bode well for him. It would be an interesting pairing of a 36-year-old first-time GM with a 67-year-old coach.
There would be parallels to what the Bears did seven years ago when they hired GM Ryan Pace at age 37 and coach John Fox, who had been a head coach for two previous teams. Like Poles, Pace had experience with only one franchise before joining the Bears. Poles, however, has worked with a deeper group of coaches and personnel staff that are now spread around the league.
Caldwell went 62-50 over three seasons in Indianapolis and four in Detroit. He was 36-28 from 2014-17 with the Lions and reached the playoffs twice. In four seasons since firing Caldwell, the Lions are 17-46-2. He worked with Peyton Manning in Indianapolis and was the Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator when they won Super Bowl XLVII in the 2012 season.
“Jim is a winner,” said former Lions center Dominic Raiola, who also served as an assistant strength coach under Caldwell. “Good, bad or indifferent, you knew what you were getting out of him. He kept the seas calm all the time. Whether it was an exciting overtime win in London or a heartbreaking loss, he never, ever changed. He was just who he was.
“There’s no reason he shouldn’t have that job in Detroit. He’s a process guy. He trusts what he does. He’s calm and cool all the time. You wanted more out of him at times in that regard, but that was part of his greatness. He trusts his older players. He’ll get the guys playing for him. He’s not going to run you into the ground, but he is also going to make you work hard enough so you’re ready to play.
“The New England guys (including GM Bob Quinn) came in. He didn’t change for anybody. This guy is not a chameleon. I trusted him as my leader.”
Polian hired Caldwell for the Colts, so there’s a connection worth keeping in mind. It’s possible the Bears would lean to a coach with an offensive background with the development of last year’s first-round pick, quarterback Justin Fields, paramount.
Eberflus and Poles share the same agent, according to a source. Quinn reached a Super Bowl as head coach of the Atlanta Falcons and did well this season as the Cowboys defensive coordinator. He’s regarded as a coach who gets the best from players and staff.
It’s possible Poles could opt to open the search further – but he might just have his man soon.