After 1 year on the job, Chicago Bears President Kevin Warren has made an impression with his energy. Will it produce results?

Kevin Warren had just arrived in Orlando, Fla., for the NFL owners meetings last month, so his attire was more casual than the suit and tie he usually wears to such events. His morning travel didn’t afford time for lunch, so tucked in the back room of a restaurant at the Ritz-Carlton, he took bites of blackened shrimp salad amid monologues about the state of the Chicago Bears.

If the Bears president and CEO was harried by thoughts of diving into three days of meetings with NFL leaders, he didn’t show it as he waded through multiple topics facing the organization, including its Chicago stadium push and the work that general manager Ryan Poles has accomplished. Warren even offered thanks for the questions.

In one year on the job, Warren has balanced working in such seemingly contradictory states.

He bounces from meeting to meeting with an enthusiasm and energy that Bears chief operating officer Karen Murphy finds difficult to comprehend. He is unafraid of the attention in his new role, already exceedingly more visible and vocal than his predecessor, Ted Phillips, about his wants for the organization and his methods to get it.

“A force of nature,” Bears Chairman George McCaskey said.

Yet beneath the extroverted passion and grinder mentality is a skill for building relationships, McCaskey and Murphy said, an ability to make people feel heard, appreciated and motivated.

That motivation was one thing Warren identified as needing improvement inside Halas Hall when he started his job April 17, 2023, after nearly four years as Big Ten commissioner.

“One of the things that kind of jumped off the page for me was I got a sense that many of our employees needed to be reminded about how great this franchise is, that we are poised for greatness,” Warren said. “We need to work hard. We need to communicate. But we are a charter franchise.

“And not only that, we had some really talented people. So one of the things I saw across our organization is that we needed to make sure that we expanded our dreams — and then we’re willing to work to reach those dreams. But it was OK for us to really dream big and strive to be exceptional.”

Many questions persist about whether Warren and his bold style will help the Bears reach such achievements.

Can he propel the franchise to its coveted construction of a closed-roof stadium on Chicago’s lakefront? Will his revamping of the executive staff push the team to better business? Will his guidance of Poles help the Bears pull out of their yearslong state of mediocrity on the field?

It’s too soon to answer any of those, but one thing is certain: One year in, Warren has made an impression.

‘Different shapes and sizes’

The most buzzed-about change off the field over the last year has been the Bears’ publicly declared intention to shift from building a stadium on the $197 million property they bought in Arlington Heights to developing plans for a lakefront stadium on Chicago’s Museum Campus.

At the owners meetings, Warren delved deep into why he believes that pivot is right for the Bears and Chicago, touting what he thinks would be an economic boost from having a year-round, closed-roof stadium near downtown.

But behind the scenes, another major shift has occurred. Warren has revamped the executive staff, with the Bears steadily rolling out seven vice-president-level promotions and hirings over the last six weeks.

When Warren took office with the Bears, McCaskey told him, “You need to have the people in place that you believe in, and that will support you to take us where we want to go.”

Warren set out to assemble, in his words, a “strong human capital base” through his strategy of “keeping, empowering, acquiring and educating” the most talented people he could find.

Murphy, who has been with the Bears for 25 years, including previously working under Phillips, was the first big promotion.

Warren named her executive vice president of stadium development and chief operating officer on March 5, at that moment making her the highest-ranking woman in the organization under owner Virginia McCaskey. Warren touted Murphy’s stadium experience, financial acumen and global thought process.

Several moves followed, including the hirings of Meka White Morris, EVP of revenue and chief business officer; Krista Whitaker, EVP of legal and business affairs and chief legal officer; and Tanya Dreesen, senior vice president of strategy and global affairs and chief of staff.

The Bears also announced the promotions of Liz Geist to EVP of people and culture and chief human resources officer; Corey Ruff to SVP of strategy and analytics and chief of staff; and Paul Neurauter to SVP of operations and sustainability.

The new hires have a range of backgrounds, with Morris coming from the Minnesota Twins, Whitaker from the Miami Heat and Dreesen from the Minnesota Vikings.

And with four women in EVP roles — including Morris, who was one of the highest-ranking Black female executives in Major League Baseball — the Bears have striking diversity on their executive staff along with Warren and Poles, the team’s first Black president and general manager.

Warren said the staff shows “that talent comes in different shapes and sizes.” He hopes it sends a message “that you can be a woman at the Chicago Bears and thrive and be put in key positions and do a wonderful job. You can be a person of color, male or female, and thrive at the Chicago Bears.”

But he wants the focus to be on the skills and knowledge his new hires and promotions bring — and how that can drive the Bears to their goals.

“I really try to focus on talent,” Warren said. “And it happened to be Meka Morris was the most talented person. She’s a Black woman. That’s wonderful. But she’s the most talented person. It happened to be Karen Murphy, at this point in time in our life cycle, she’s the most talented person for us to work together on this stadium and be our chief operating officer. Is it great she’s been here for 25 years and she’s a female? Yes, wonderful.

“Yes, we’re diverse, but the thing I want people to say is that they’re incredibly talented and exceptional and they’re leaders, hard workers and passionate. … And people will really be talking about it when we cut the ribbon on our stadium and when we win the first of many Super Bowl trophies. That’s when they’ll say you can win with a diverse environment.”

Warren hopes the restructuring will help create and sustain a culture of success as the Bears bring in new ideas and processes. As he implements such changes at Halas Hall, he’s conscious of pushing the right buttons within an organization that has long valued history and loyalty.

He believes it helps that he and McCaskey have many of the same values.

“It’s around the edges — which the edges are big — that we can make sure that we modernize the Chicago Bears in a manner to make sure it’s competitive not only from a football standpoint, but a business, stadium, brand and a global brand standpoint,” Warren said. “But it is very delicate, that process.”

Not holding back

When McCaskey considered the influence Warren has had on Halas Hall so far, he first identified Warren’s ability to build relationships.

It started with Warren interviewing more than 200 employees, and it continues into everyday interactions. McCaskey noted that Warren makes it a point at every quarterly staff meeting to recognize the achievements of those within the organization.

“Just watching his verbal and physical interactions with people, he brings people in — in conversation and physically,” McCaskey said. “He throws his arms around you, and you can see people responding to that.”

McCaskey believes Warren brings many of the traits of his predecessor, Phillips: integrity, humility, leadership, decision-making, the ability to have difficult conversations with people and still talk to them the next day.

But Warren has “a completely different style than Ted,” and McCaskey sees it as his responsibility to adjust to that energetic and passionate approach.

Murphy said Warren is “like a machine” in his ability to jet to different meetings and tasks but said he has struck a balance between connecting with people and pushing them.

“He doesn’t accept anything but the goal of winning Super Bowls, that we’re going to bring a new stadium to our fans,” Murphy said after her promotion last month. “And he does it in such a way that he energizes everyone.”

Externally, McCaskey pointed to Warren’s developing relationship with Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson as one reason the Bears have been able to pursue their lakefront stadium vision.

Internally, one of Warren’s most important relationships is with Poles.

Warren has raved about his connection with Poles from early in his tenure, saying he feels like it’s one of the few truly transparent relationships of his career.

He called Poles bright, conscientious, curious and attentive to detail, with a knowledge of what a winner should look like from his time with the Kansas City Chiefs. He complimented Poles’ professional handling of the Justin Fields trade, noting that he believed Poles kept Fields’ interests in mind when he sent the quarterback to the Pittsburgh Steelers for a conditional 2025 sixth-round pick last month.

And though Warren classifies both he and Poles as Type A personalities, he believes their dynamic works.

“I think one of the things that he was probably yearning for was a really good partner and a resource,” Warren said. “That was going to work side by side with him, that had resources and contacts, that was going to be 100% transparent with him. Who was going to be demanding but who was going to be candid, who was going to be nonjudgmental and who really cared about his well-being.

“And Ryan knows that he gets that in me. There’s nothing I hold back.”

As Poles prepares for a key NFL draft in which the Bears are likely to select quarterback Caleb Williams with the No. 1 pick and hope to take another difference-maker with the No. 9 pick, Warren said he tries to act as a sounding board.

At the end of their weekly meetings, Warren always asks Poles, “Do you have everything you need for us to be a champion?”

“And as long as he continues to say yes,” Warren said, “then we’re moving in the right direction.”

Culture check

When McCaskey considered the vibe around Halas Hall this offseason, he offered four words: “Excitement, buzz, positivity, anticipation.”

Offseasons are typically filled with positive emotions, but this one for the Bears feels different.

Along with the draft capital and a roster that’s rounding into better shape, they have new offensive coaches — including coordinator Shane Waldron — on whom to pin their player development hopes. They look forward to a Hall of Fame induction ceremony for three of their former stars; a preseason game in Canton, Ohio, two days before that ceremony; and a regular-season game in London. And they have a second set of grand stadium plans in the works.

It’s a striking contrast to the aura surrounding the Bears just six or seven months ago, when the team faced a host of issues on and off the field beyond their 0-4 and then 2-7 start. At the forefront was parting with two coaches midseason. Defensive coordinator Alan Williams resigned and running backs coach David Walker was fired, both for conduct-related reasons, according to Tribune sources.

After Walker’s dismissal, Poles and coach Matt Eberflus billed the change as upholding the organization’s standards.

“It’s an opportunity to reaffirm your values and make sure everybody understands (them),” McCaskey said last month of the upheaval. “It’s one thing to talk about it. But when you’re tested, you need to act on it. People want to know, is it just words? Or does it mean something?”

The problem is Poles and Eberflus hired all of the coaches in the first place. Warren believes lessons were learned — and applied — as the Bears went through another set of coaching searches this offseason. Across the organization, he has tried to stress patience in the hiring process.

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“I don’t believe there was a culture problem,” Warren said. “I wasn’t here when we hired the first set of coaches, but I can tell you this (second hiring) process was really methodical. They were very detailed, even in the interview process, not only from a football knowledge standpoint but just spending time with each other. And they interviewed a lot of different candidates. That’s a scenario we did improve, and it paid dividends.”

The 7-10 Bears had many problems last season beyond questions about a culture issue. On the field, coordinator Luke Getsy, Fields and the rest of the offense didn’t reach the heights needed. The Bears moved on from Getsy and Fields but retained Eberflus.

Poles said in January it was his decision to keep Eberflus, but he did it with input from Warren and McCaskey.

As Warren’s plane landed in Orlando last month, he thought about the free-agent dealings and draft preparations of Poles and Eberflus in their third offseason together. It cemented in his mind that “continuity” between the two was the right way to go.

He called himself “impatiently patient” as he waits for the same turnaround on the field that he’s trying to implement off the field.

“Things that are valuable, they take time to build,” Warren said. “I’m not saying it’s a 10-year period, but I know it takes time. … I’ve been here 11 months now, and I’m all in. My hands are in the dirt every day. But even for me, I’m still getting situated in certain areas. And I just think when you start making changes when people have been on a job for 24 months, especially in an organization that needed transformation …

“I’m passionate about giving people some time — a little time. I know this year is a critical year because I feel like we have elements in place. We have some really good players. We have some really good coaches. We have the support of ownership, and we finished up the year strong. I know every year doesn’t carry over to the next. But I’m energized and excited about this year.”

The energy is not in question. The results it will produce, however, remain to be seen.