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Bear Down!by Jim McFarlin | Men's Book Chicago magazine | September 13, 2012
With star quarterback Jay Cutler healthy, a happy Matt Forte under contract, dazzling wide receiver Brandon Marshall now on the roster and a defensive unit that can only be described as monstrous, da Bears appear poised for a serious run at the NFC Championship—and beyond. A return trip to N’awlins for Super Bowl XLVII surely would be a feather in the cap of the new man at Halas Hall, Bears General Manager Phil Emery. A career scout and coach with no previous GM experience, Emery, 53, is just the fifth man ever to manage the team. With the season in full swing, the big question in Bears Country has shifted from “Who’s Phil Emery?” to “What can he do to bring us a parade down Michigan Avenue next February?”
Are you pleased with the players from your first draft? Very pleased. We got some players we felt filled immediate needs for us. Very excited about Shea [McClellin]. We needed another rusher on the edge and we feel that he brings that to us. Alshon Jeffery we feel was one of the best wideouts in the draft. Along with Brandon and bringing in Eric Weems from Atlanta, we feel we really solidified our roster at that position.
We feel good about the mix of players we were able to bring in through free agency and the draft that are going to help our team get closer to its goal of winning a championship. We’re not done. We’ve kept working on the roster, looking at it every day. It takes a lot of hard work and focus, and that’s what we wake up with.
From what some pundits and fans were saying after you were hired, it seemed like only the ghost of George Halas coming back to run the team would have satisfied them. That’s OK. We’ve got great fans. They’re awesome. [Their passion] just makes it a greater journey. It is a big deal, and that’s why I wanted the job. Nothing’s bigger in this town than the Bears, and I understand that. I look forward to it every day. It’s not a detractor. It’s like, ‘Let’s go get it!’
This is actually your second go-round with the Bears, isn’t it? Yes, I was here as a college scout from ’98 through the 2004 draft. Coach [Lovie] Smith’s first draft.
That means you worked under Jerry Angelo, the man you’ve replaced as GM. Conventional thinking around Chicago is that if Cutler hadn’t broken his thumb chasing down that interception last November, the Bears would have made the playoffs and Angelo would have kept his job. Somebody asked me prior to the draft, ‘Do you feel lucky?’ I said, ‘Absolutely I feel lucky! Without luck, I wouldn’t be standing here.’ Jerry was my former boss, and I had a great working relationship with Jerry. He helped me get to the Atlanta Falcons [as director of college scouting]. This is a great job, and I knew this was a great job from watching Jerry. I learned a lot from him, but luck is involved. Sometimes things happen, and I was lucky to be the person they picked.
Which begs the obvious question: Why do you think the Bears chose you, over other finalists with more front office experience? I think the fact I had been in a leadership position as director of college scouting for eight years, at two different franchises [Atlanta and Kansas City], two distinctly different philosophies in terms of approaching the draft and staff, helped.
When you’re looking for a GM, what are you looking for? Somebody who can lead and bring people together. Somebody who can evaluate talent and make decisions. I’ve been in those roles. I think the fact I have been a teacher, that I was a coach on both sides of the ball, helped greatly in terms of being able to relate to our staff, to people in the building. I think having been a strength coach and conditioning coach helped me a lot because in that role you have to touch all facets of athletics—training staff, equipment staff, coaching staff, administration. You learn to work with and share common goals with a lot of different people.
Life is filled with ironies. You once worked under Lovie Smith as a scout. Now you’re his boss. I don’t look at it that way. I really don’t. I know I have to make final decisions and I have to provide direction. But I look at it like we’re all moving forward as a team and we’re going to make decisions that make sense for the betterment of the team. I’m going to take input from a lot of different directions to do that. So I don’t sit behind my desk every day and go, ‘I’m the boss.’ I sit behind my desk and I go, ‘What do we have to do to get better today?’