G.W. Gras

Senior Writer for The Bears Brawl and Lead Host of The Bears Brawl Podcast.

As Bears fans, we have a lot to be hopeful about. We’re coming off the Bears having a 12-4 season and winning the division. To top it all off, they didn’t just win the division, but they did it by beating their arch nemesis, the Green Bay Packers. Let’s also not forget they spoiled the Packers’ hopes of making it to the playoffs by beating them. All of what I just stated, that puts a smile on your face, doesn’t it? I know I’m smiling. There’s so much promise for our beloved Bears. We have an offensive guru in Matt Nagy who brings with him crazy trick plays and a fun culture. We have a dominant defensive player in Khalil Mack who could have offensive linemen hold him constantly, and he’ll still find a way to back his way into a sack. We have a young and up and coming quarterback in Mitchell Trubisky who showed us just a glimpse of how good he could be for us. We wouldn’t have any of this, though, if we didn’t have Ryan Pace. He’s the true catalyst to the Bears’ success.

 

Let’s backtrack a little. How were the Bears even able to get Ryan Pace in the first place? Well, they had to be the laughing stock of the league in order to obtain him… The 2014 season was a dark year for Bears fans, Marc Trestman was the head coach, with Phil Emery as GM. There was little to cheer about that year. The team was getting blown out, it seemed each week. The defense allowed more than 50 points against the Patriots and Packers. That right there was the most alarming part of their whole tenure. Even in years past when the team struggled, we could always hang our hat on the fact that we fielded a strong defense. In my opinion, Marc Trestman and Phil Emery stole that identity away from us. Questionable defensive coaches, aging defenders such as Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman, and just a lack of discernment in making defense important, led to Trestman and Emery’s ultimate downfall. After going 5-11 that season, it made absolute must to let the two go. They were never meant for the job….. Then comes Ryan Pace.

 

Ryan Pace, who was the former Director of Player Personnel for the Saints, was hired by the Bears to be the new General Manager. Pace’s first move as GM was to hire John Fox to be the head coach. It wasn’t necessarily his choice, but it was a choice pushed by management, that made sense at the time. Fox was a veteran head coach and had a lot of success with the Panthers and Broncos. Also Fox was known for defense, which was something the Bears desperately needed after Trestman and Emery completely destroyed the future of it. These early moves by Pace were never necessarily supposed to bring the Bears back to winning, but more about bringing back stability and structure. This was essentially the beginning of the rebuild period for Pace.

(Jan. 18, 2015 – Source: David Banks/Getty Images North America)

Shortly after Pace was hired, it became very evident he was here to completely change the direction and culture of the franchise. In his first couple of months, he made moves that showed what what type of leader of a franchise he would be He agreed to trade wide receiver Brandon Marshall to the Jets for a fifth round pick. Stephen Paea and Chris Conte were not brought back, instead signing with the Redskins and Buccaneers respectively. Longtime staple of the Bears defense Charles Tillman was not brought back, nor Lance Briggs. Roberto Garza, the longest-tenured player at the time, was released. Now, what all of these moves indicated was that Pace wanted to let go of the old and rebuild with fresh, young talent. He also wanted to rid himself of big personalities such as Brandon Marshall who seemed more interested in pointing fingers and having a “me-first” agenda. He also wanted to rid himself of the bad apples, which brings me to Ray McDonald. Ray McDonald (defensive lineman), was signed by Pace to a 1 year deal in 2015, but was immediately released two months later after being arrested on suspicion of domestic violence and child endangerment. Now some would say that was being prisoner of the moment. You should let the true facts come out. That was not Pace’s motive of operandi. He wanted to show that the future of the Bears was going to be built on high-character guys. Guys who when they left the facility, there wasn’t a worry about them getting in trouble. Pace said after releasing McDonald, “We believe in second chances, but when we signed Ray, we were very clear what our expectations were if he was to remain a Bear. He was not able to meet the standard and the decision was made to release him.” If you wanted to be a Bear with  Pace was in charge, not only did you need to be a good player, but a good person.

 

Fast track two years later. Ryan Pace and the Bears finally decided to cut ties with quarterback Jay Cutler. The controversial quarterback who showed promise with his physical abilities, but also lacked consistency and the ability to rally a team. His history of poor body language and bone-headed plays led to his demise. Now, Pace was on the hunt for a franchise quarterback. I learned a lot about Pace that offseason because it showed that he moved in silence and some say very cunningly. He never showed his hand or showed what his real plan for the team was. That can be most exemplified in the drafting of our current quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. Trubisky was never on my radar. Why? I didn’t think the Bears were even looking for a quarterback. They just signed Mike Glennon to big money in free agency and it seemed that he would be the quarterback to step in as they were rebuilding. Eventually, a few years down the line he would ultimately be replaced by the future franchise quarterback. That was my assumption, but like they say, never assume. Ryan Pace shocked the NFL world when he decided to trade up one spot to get what he thought (and he appears to be right so far) was the franchise quarterback for the Bears; Mitchell Trubisky. At the time, everyone thought the 49ers fleeced Pace and the Bears, although I wasn’t a part of that narrative. I was in the group of people that thought Pace was showing initiative. If you think a quarterback is THE GUY for you, why wouldn’t you do what it takes  to get him? Solidifying the quarterback position is the most important thing to do in the NFL, and that’s exactly what Pace was trying to accomplish.

 

My notion that Ryan Pace was building a team full of high character guys was further solidified with the drafting of Mitchell Trubisky as their franchise quarterback. Mitchell was everything that Jay Cutler was not, he was a leader. He ate, slept, and breathed football. He made an emphasis (and was even quoted saying) to make sure he always displayed great body language. He studied and read up on what it means to be a leader and how he could adapt that to his personality. He also has taken on the meaning of what it means to be a Bear. That can be most evident in his press conference leading up to the Week 15 game against the Packers this past season. When asked about Aaron Rodgers, he said that he hasn’t watched or paid attention to Rodgers this season. He was focused on his game and improving each week. He was also asked about having the “Favre” nickname in high school and he immediately shot that down by emphasizing he was a Chicago Bear. That nickname was now over for him. I don’t know about everyone else, but that made my heart so full. Here was the leader of our franchise making it publicly known he was not about the Packers. He understood the history and rivalry between the Bears/Packers and wanted no affiliation to the Packers. The tone of his voice, the reaction to the questions and annoyance to the questions showed that he almost already despised the Packers. I loved every bit of that, because that’s the kind of fan I am. I hate the Packers,  I want my players to hate them as well. Now, yes I’ve been going on and on about Mitchell the person and haven’t really discussed him as player. He has shown extreme promise and improvement (particularly because of a certain head coach that will be mentioned shortly) as a quarterback, which gives us hope for the future as Bears’ fans, but that’s not the point I’m trying to make. What I’m trying to get at is that Ryan Pace has made it his mark to draft and bring in great players, but also people who exemplify high character.

The final big move that Pace made that completely turned around the franchise and brought a culture change to the team was the hiring of Matt Nagy as head coach. The Bears were never able to win with Fox as head coach, but like I said earlier, I never thought Fox was brought to the Bears to make them a winning team. Fox was brought to Chicago to pick up the pieces and clean up the mess that Trestman left. Once the defense was back on track, particularly because of Fox’s guy Vic Fangio, it was time to move on from Fox. Now the Bears needed to find a guy who could bring out the best in Mitchell Trubisky, a young offensive guru per say. Pace finally had the chance to pick HIS GUY. The guy that most shared in his vision for the Bears as a franchise, he got exactly that with Nagy. Nagy said right from the beginning that his strength as a coach is connecting with players. Nagy made it known that he wanted the direction of the team to be full of guys who want to be great, not good. He wanted the players to become like a family, to be united. Nagy wanted “We” guys. That’s exactly what Pace has been trying to build, a team full of selfless guys with high character who care about winning and the team. To some, it may have been a surprise that the Bears were so successful last season. Although, i was never shocked. I’ve always felt that to be a winning team, everyone from top to bottom had to be united as a team. Nagy’s what I like to call “Fun Tactics” (Club Dub, dance competitions, BOOM), brought the team together and  everyone to bought in. Some say anyone would have bought into that culture and would have had success, but I think it was only possible because Ryan Pace built a team full of “We” guys. If we had guys like Brandon Marshall or say an Antonio Brown or God forbid a Kareem Hunt, I believe eventually their true colors would have eventually shown, no matter the circumstances. Because, the Bears had a team full of great players who are also good people, they were able to build upon Nagy’s philosophies and truly become a winning culture.

 

As we look forward to the upcoming 2019 season, there’s a lot to be excited about. The Bears are considered a Super Bowl contender right now. The offense has a season under its belt and will only get better from here. Nagy has experienced the rookie woes of being a head coach and learned some valuable lessons on how to handle in-game situations. It’s honestly crazy to think how far the Bears have come in just a year, but in my opinion, it’s really been a slow build ever since Ryan Pace was hired in 2015. The Bears wouldn’t be who they are today without Ryan Pace and his philosophies on how to build a winning franchise. For that, I’m thankful for, and I’ll leave you with this one last note… The good guys win in the end.