Bears GM Phil Emery already putting his stamp on team
BY SEAN JENSEN firstname.lastname@example.org March 29, 2012 10:28PM
Phil Emery has been aggressive right off the bat, signing 10 players and trading for Brandon Marshall. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times
Updated: May 1, 2012 8:25AM
On Jan. 20, when the Blackhawks were hosting the Florida Panthers, a fan approached Bears chairman George McCaskey at the United Center.
“He didn’t even introduce himself, and he said, ‘My parents have been ticket holders since 1932. Get it right,’ ” McCaskey recalled. “To me, that emphasized fans’ emotional investment in the team. They want to be sure that their team is doing things the right way and making the right decisions.”
McCaskey wanted to tell that fan about a man he’d interviewed earlier in the day, the college scouting director of the Kansas City Chiefs.
It was Phil Emery, and he impressed McCaskey with his candor, sincerity and “innate leadership qualities.”
“I had a real strong feeling after Phil’s interview,” McCaskey said. “There was something about him.”
Emery has been on the job two months, and he hasn’t exactly eased into his rookie season as a general manager.
He aggressively has chewed up more than $20 million in salary-cap space, signing 10 players to contracts and trading two third-round picks to the Miami Dolphins to land three-time Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall.
The latter move was immediately trumpeted, hours before free agency officially started March 13, until a report later that night alleged that Marshall punched a woman in the face at a New York nightclub.
“Phil Emery is very confident,” Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said. “He does his research, and he’s a ‘Cross the T’s, dot the I’s exponentially’ type of guy. He understands what the organization needs, and he’ll make moves that are well thought out.
“I believe this is indicative of where we are as team builders in this league as far as making bold, aggressive moves if we deem they’ll be impactful for our team.”
Emery, though, insisted he engaged people throughout Halas Hall, even if he ultimately made the decision.
“Never make a decision in a vacuum,” Emery said. “Coaches were involved. Scouts were involved. Front office was involved.”
Bears president Ted Phillips picked Emery over four other qualified candidates and has no regrets.
“I think it’s worked really well,’’ Phillips said. ‘‘He’s jumped in with both feet. He’s a tireless worker. Great character. He’s put together a good strategy and plan that he’s going to stick to.
“It’s early, but he’s raised the bar, and he’s made clear what his expectations are.”
Emery’s humble nature has pleasantly surprised Phillips. He has asserted his leadership but isn’t shy about deferring to others. For instance, Phillips said, Emery has leaned on Cliff Stein, the team’s senior director of football administration.
“I knew he had a good work ethic, but he has the ability to know what he needs to improve on,” Phillips said, noting Emery’s lack of experience negotiating contracts, a task handled by Stein. “My sense was, he had good leadership skills, but now I’ve seen it in action.”
In fact, Emery said he has long respected Stein. When he headed to Atlanta to be the Falcons’ college scouting director, Emery used Stein’s format and outline for college free agents.
“Cliff is outstanding,” Emery said. “I knew walking into this situation that, yeah, there are going to be people here who could help me.”
Emery has visited with employees throughout the organization, and he’s working to instill a group-think approach, even if there are different viewpoints.
“There’s a lot of power in team, in group effort,” Emery said. “That’s my focus, wanting everyone to go in the same direction.
“That’s how we’re going to get there, consistently in the playoffs, consistently competing for championships.”
But there are more big decisions ahead.
The Bears are still trying to sign Pro Bowl running back Matt Forte to a long-term contract, and other key players — such as defensive tackle Henry Melton and middle linebacker Brian Urlacher — enter the final year of their respective deals. In addition, coach Lovie Smith and quarterback Jay Cutler have contracts that expire in 2013.
But Emery is unfazed.
“It’s been a thrill every day,” he said. “No matter how late it is when you go to bed, when you get up in the morning, the first thought that crosses your mind is, ‘What do I need to do today to help this team reach our goal of being in a position to compete and win championships and do it in a way that our fans and everyone in our building is going to be proud of?’
“That’s what drives me.”