The Chicago Bears have hired Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren to be their president and CEO, the team announced Thursday.
Warren, who has been with the Big Ten for a little more than three years, will supplant outgoing Bears president and CEO Ted Phillips, who is retiring at the end of February. Phillips has been with the Bears organization for more than 39 years, the last 24 in the president and CEO role.
In a statement, Bears Chairman George McCaskey called Warren “a man of integrity, respect and excellence.” The team will introduce Warren at a news conference Tuesday.
“We welcome his perspective and diverse thought to lead this storied organization,” McCaskey said. “He is a proven leader who has many times stepped outside of his comfort zone to challenge status quo for unconventional growth and prosperity.
“In this role, Warren will serve in the primary leadership position of the franchise to help bring the next Super Bowl championship trophy home to Bears fans.”
Warren’s arrival comes at a landmark time in the organization’s history with the Bears pursuing a grand venture to build a new stadium and working to close on a 326-acre piece of land at Arlington Park in Arlington Heights soon with the property envisioned to become the home of not only a new stadium but a large entertainment district.
Warren, who was with the Minnesota Vikings organization for 15 seasons before leaving for the Big Ten, was instrumental in creating the vision for U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis and seeing it through during his time as the team’s Chief Operating Office. The Vikings opened that venue in July 2016. Less than two years later, they also moved into their new state-of-the-art practice facility and team headquarters in Eagan, Minn. — another project that had Warren’s fingerprints all over it.
After Phillips announced his plans to retire in September, McCaskey expressed eagerness to begin a search for a replacement with the help of search firm Nolan Partners. McCaskey listed several key traits he’d be searching for in a candidate including leadership, vision, humility and consensus building.
“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,” McCaskey said in September.
Warren will join the Bears at a pivotal time. Not only will he be responsible for overseeing the team’s stadium project and ongoing business ventures, but he will be expected to provide direction to an entire building for a franchise that will have the No. 1 overall pick for April’s draft.
The team announced Warren will oversee business operations and general manager Ryan Poles. Phillips had been the point person for the hiring, firing and performance evaluations of the Bears general managers until McCaskey assumed that oversight this season.
In a statement, Warren thanked the McCaskey family and Phillips for placing their trust in him.
“I am honored and recognize the responsibility bestowed upon me to lead the Chicago Bears during this exciting and pivotal time for the franchise,” Warren said. “I look forward to building on the rich tradition that started with George Halas and connecting with the unique and vibrant fan base in Chicago. I join the Chicago Bears with gratitude and drive to carry out and build upon the legacy and spirit of this founding franchise and my predecessors.”
Poles said in a statement that he believes Warren will be a “tremendous resource” as he rebuilds the Bears.
“In my time spent with him during the interview process, it quickly became apparent his résumé and business acumen will be a powerful asset to helping improve our organization and ultimately reach our goal to be a championship organization,” Poles said.
During Warren’s time as Big Ten commissioner, his think-big mentality was evident. The conference finalized a record-setting media rights deal worth more than $7 billion in August. The conference also continued its expansion efforts with wheels in motion for Southern California and UCLA to join the league in 2024.
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When Warren was hired to become Big Ten commissioner in 2019, Vikings owners Mark and Zygi Wilf lauded his leadership skills.
“Kevin has impacted the Vikings and our family in immeasurable ways over the last 15 years,” the Wilfs said in a statement. “He has worked tirelessly to elevate the Vikings franchise, all with the greater good of the organization and Minneapolis-St. Paul in mind.”
Warren officially took over the Big Ten job from Jim Delany in January 2020, and less than three months later faced his first major challenge in handling the COVID-19 pandemic. The conference’s initial decision to cancel the 2020 football season was controversial, but a nine-game season eventually was played after pushback from coaches and athletes, including a petition by then-Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields.
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Warren told reporters in July 2021 that he didn’t regret how he handled the situation.
“Quite naturally, we all look back over our lives and there are things we wish we would have maybe done a little bit differently,” Warren said. “But if I had the chance to do it all over last year, I would make the same decisions that we made because one of the things that I’ve always tried to focus on … is making sure we keep our student-athletes at the center of all of our decisions, athletically, academically, regarding college football playoff expansion, relationships with our media partners, relationships with our bowl partners, all of those different things.
“If we put them at the epicenter of our decisions we’re going to be OK. And we did that last year at the Big Ten.”
Warren was a basketball player at Penn and Grand Canyon University near his native Tempe, Ariz., where he was an Academic All-American. He earned a law degree from Notre Dame, was an NFL executive with the St. Louis Rams and Detroit Lions before the Vikings, and also worked as a sports agent.
Former Bears defensive lineman Chris Zorich was his first client.
“He is amazing,” Zorich told the Tribune in 2020. “No one will outwork him. He brings something extra to everything he does. If the (Vikings) stadium is four walls and a roof, he will make it four walls, a roof and a breastfeeding room.”
Warren was the first Black commissioner of a Power Five conference and now becomes the first Black President in Bears history. Phillips was the first Bears president outside of the Halas/McCaskey family, with Michael McCaskey, George “Mugs” Halas, Jr., and George S. Halas serving in the role before him.
Warren and his wife, Greta, live in Chicago and have two adult children, a daughter, Peri, and son, Powers.