Bill Tobin, longtime Chicago Bears personnel man who played a major role in building the Super Bowl XX champions, dies at 83

Bill Tobin, longtime Chicago Bears personnel man who played a major role in building the Super Bowl XX champions, dies at 83

To a large segment of football fans, Bill Tobin’s name is synonymous with one of the all-time draft rants from 30 years ago when he uttered the words, “Who in the hell is Mel Kiper anyway?”

It remains a viral clip that no doubt boosted the profile of Kiper, an ESPN draft analyst, but also offered a glimpse into Tobin’s personality as a meticulous and thorough scout who was no-nonsense.

Tobin, who was the Chicago Bears vice president of player personnel from 1986-92 after joining the organization in 1975, died Thursday, the Cincinnati Bengals announced. He was 83.

“Bill was relentless in pursuing a single goal: making the Bears better,” Chairman George McCaskey told the team’s website Friday. “He had a keen eye for talent and he passionately advocated for players he believed in. He helped build the greatest team in NFL history — the ’85 Bears — and for that we are forever grateful.”

Tobin went on to serve as the GM of the Indianapolis Colts from 1994-96 and was a director of player personnel for the Detroit Lions before working with his son Duke with the Bengals. Tobin was a rookie pro scout when the Bears drafted running back Walter Payton in 1975.

It’s undeniable that Tobin’s fingerprints were all over the 1983 draft that propelled the Bears to a Super Bowl championship in two short years. The Bears netted seven starters for the 1985 team from that draft, players who combined for 760 starts in their careers with the team.

There were 12 Pro Bowl appearances shared by left tackle Jimbo Covert, safety Dave Duerson, guard Mark Bortz and defensive end Richard Dent. Covert and Dent are enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Three starters for the offensive line emerged from the draft at the start of a four-year run in which the team led the NFL in rushing.

But Tobin’s role in the selection of Dent, a skinny, bad-bodied pass rusher from Tennessee State, is the kind of scouting tale most in the business can only dream of being part of. Tobin was the only member of the staff that had seen Dent in person and he put a second-round grade on him, considering him the best pass rusher in the draft even though a broken arm marred Dent’s senior season.

Tobin, who was born in Burlington Junction, Mo., and was a running back at the University of Missouri, badly wanted Dent, but the Bears had traded away picks in the fifth through seventh rounds and after choosing six players in the first four rounds. GM Jim Finks and owner George Halas left for lunch. No way Dent would still be around when they returned, Tobin figured.

“Finks comes back in the seventh round with ownership and he looks at me with that sly look. ‘That Dent you have a second-round grade on is still there. Should we take him next?’ ” Tobin told the Tribune in 2015. “I said, ‘Hell, yes!’ ”

The Bears won six NFC Central titles in the 18 seasons Tobin was with the organization and selected six Hall of Famers. He went on to build a Colts team that won the franchise’s first playoff game in 30 years.

Former Bears defensive coordinator Greg Blache was a student assistant at Notre Dame when he met Tobin, who was early in his scouting career. Tobin urged Colts coach Ted Marchibroda to hire Blache as the defensive line coach for the Colts in 1994.

“He had an unbelievable eye for talent,” Blache said. “He could tell you the good ones and the bad ones. I just thought he was incredible but even more than as a personnel man, he was a great man, a person you could talk to and trust.

“When you were in a personnel meeting with Bill, he could have the totally opposite opinion that you held. But he wanted to hear why you felt differently and he wanted you to speak. That made you always feel comfortable because you could be honest. He was off the charts.”

It was with the Colts in that first year in 1994 that Tobin drafted Nebraska linebacker Trev Alberts with the fifth pick, bypassing Fresno State quarterback Trent Dilfer. That drew criticism from Kiper, and Tobin popped off on ESPN in an interview with Chris Mortensen. Later, Tobin explained he felt Kiper held a bias against the Colts because they had left Baltimore, where Kiper lives.

In a classy gesture, Kiper shared condolences of the news Tobin had passed on X, the site formerly known as Twitter.

As it turned out, Tobin did a pretty good job building that Colts team around former Bears quarterback Jim Harbaugh, and the 1995 team reached the AFC championship game. Tobin drafted running back Marshall Faulk and wide receiver Marvin Harrison in Indianapolis, both Hall of Famers.