Phil Emery’s daughter changed the way new Bears GM scouts the world
BY SEAN JENSEN firstname.lastname@example.org February 1, 2012 10:53PM
Phil Emery is trained to spot the positives in people as a result of his adult daughter’s condition, which requires care from her parents. “You don’t have to look very hard — you just have to notice,” he said. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times
Updated: March 3, 2012 11:37AM
Phil and April Emery cruised along the back roads of Kansas City on Saturday afternoon, a coffee in the father’s hand and a vanilla steamer in his daughter’s.
The drives are their favorite tradition; they agree on a radio station, soak in the scene and chat about whatever comes to mind.
But Saturday’s drive was interrupted every five seconds by the pinging of Phil’s phone. Text messages flooded in after the Bears named him the franchise’s fifth general manager.
‘‘She looked at me and said, ‘Dad, a lot of calls,’ ” Phil recalled.
After a pause, he looked at her and said, ‘‘But in every one of those, they’re saying, ‘Go, Bears.’ ”
Wearing a Bears sweatshirt, April, 28, looked at her father and excitedly said, ‘‘Go, Bears!’’
There’s a tinge of emotion as Phil tells the story.
‘‘That may not mean a lot to people,’’ he says quietly. ‘‘But that meant a lot to me. It meant she had already bought in. She was all-in to the Chicago Bears.’’
In 31 years as a football coach and scout, including six as an area scout with the Bears and the last three as the Kansas City Chiefs’ scouting director, Emery has distinguished himself in every job and endeared himself to his superiors. He has made many friends, many allies, who gush about his leadership, his character and his work ethic.
‘‘It’s not like we’re buddy-buddy,’’ said Jacksonville Jaguars college personnel director Andy Dengler, who educated Emery about the life of an NFL scout in the late 1990s. ‘‘We have a very professional relationship. But everything about Phil Emery is first-class.’’
Added Dick Lowry, Emery’s head coach at Wayne State University, ‘‘He was the ideal student-athlete, and he wouldn’t be outworked by anybody.’’
Yet for all his professional successes, Emery, 53, cherishes his personal blessings above all else, most notably his wife, Beth, and his daughter. During his introductory news conference Monday, he called Beth his ‘‘soul mate of almost 30 years’’ and April ‘‘the light of my eye.’’
‘‘Both of them have been with me from the beginning,’’ Emery said. ‘‘Their unending love is the reason I’m here today.’’
Everyone is special
A three-year letter winner as an offensive lineman at Wayne State, Emery landed his first full-time coaching job in 1983 at Western New Mexico University in Silver City. Officially, he was the offensive line and strength and conditioning coach, but he had a number of other responsibilities.
In the book War Room, which chronicles how the New England Patriots were built, Emery tells author Michael Holley he married Beth three months after they met in the mining town in New Mexico. When April was born, she was active and bright, but she started to have occasional seizures at the age of 6. Then the seizures became longer and more frequent. According to the book, the Emerys took her to two of the best hospitals for neurological disorders and tried up to 15 different medications.
She was diagnosed with epilepsy and today requires the care of her parents.
In War Room, Emery says he and Beth were ‘‘forced to look at life and all people in a different light’’ once they recognized April’s special needs were permanent.
They learned to be more patient. They learned to focus on the positives in people instead of the negatives.
‘‘More than anything, my daughter’s taught me that every person has a special quality,’’ he said. ‘‘You don’t have to look very hard — you just have to notice.
‘‘Even though people may have special needs or issues, it doesn’t mean they don’t want to be excellent at something or live a quality life. And when someone can’t do things themselves, we have to help them and, through doing that, we gain a better appreciation for each other.’’
Not to be defeated
Mike Ward and Emery were assistant coaches at Georgetown College in 1984 and have remained friends since. Ward remembered how devastated Emery was when April’s seizures started.
‘‘But he never, ever, ever wore that on his sleeve,’’ Ward said, ‘‘and that’s just the way he is. He was always positive. They were going to do what was best for April, to give her the best care.’’
Ward paused, collecting his thoughts, noting that he has two daughters himself.
‘‘I guess if something like that happened to my family, I can only hope I would act the same way,’’ he said. ‘‘To see his response, you have to admire him as a man.’’
As a scout, Emery had to spend most of his time on the road during the season, with just three to seven days at home a month.
‘‘Everybody knows the life of a scout. Many months you’re on the road,’’ said Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo, who was an assistant coach alongside Emery at the service academy from 1995 to 1998. ‘‘So you have to have a supportive lady, and [Beth] is wonderful.’’
While he revels in scouring the country, searching for NFL stars, Emery cherishes his moments with his daughter, even if they’re not doing anything elaborate.
‘‘There’s a lot of things she can’t do because of it,’’ he said, ‘‘but there’s a lot she can, and there’s a lot she enjoys. The time with her is the best of my life.’’