Ted Phillips helped the Chicago Bears thrive away from the field as President and CEO of the founding NFL franchise.
They didn't have as much success between the lines, helping make him a sore spot for frustrated fans.
Now, he's retiring at the end of the season after 40 years with the franchise, ushering in a new era for the Bears that could include a sparkling new suburban stadium.
"Every day has been a true pleasure and being surrounded by so many talented and wonderful people has made my job richly rewarding on many levels,” he said Friday in a statement. “I will always bleed blue and orange and forever be proud to be a part of the Chicago Bears family.”
Phillips, an accountant by trade, joined the Bears as the team’s controller in 1983 and spent four years in that position before moving up the organization’s ladder. He became the franchise's fourth president of the in February 1999 and first outside the Halas-McCaskey family tree, after founder George Halas, George Halas Jr. and Michael McCaskey.
The Bears have thrived financially during his time as president, with Forbes estimating their value at $5.8 billion — fifth-highest in the league. But they haven't experienced the sort of success they would like on the field.
Phillips has had a hand in hiring four general managers, including Ryan Poles this year, since taking over as president.
He also oversaw several renovations to the team’s suburban headquarters and played a key role in negotiating the oft-criticized renovation of Soldier Field in 2002.
Most recently, his focus has been on purchasing a 326-acre tract of land in suburban Arlington Heights, Illinois, where a new stadium and entertainment complex could be built. The team is scheduled to unveil conceptual plans for the site of the former Arlington International Racecourse — about 30 miles northwest of Soldier Field — at a community meeting Thursday in the town.
Phillips said he has been “truly blessed” to work for the Bears. He said he appreciated the support of the McCaskey family owners and called “overseeing this amazing growth of the Chicago Bears” a “dream come true.”
Team matriarch Virginia McCaskey, George Halas' daughter, said in a rare public statement the Bears were “very blessed” to have Phillips.
“Anything that he was ever asked to take care of, he came through and did it very well,” she said.
The Bears said a search for his replacement is underway and a successor will be hired “in the coming months.”
“It’s difficult to put into words how much Ted has meant to the Bears and our family,” chairman George McCaskey said. “The faith that Virginia and Ed McCaskey placed in him by naming him President and CEO of the Bears has been rewarded many times over.”
Phillips has been a lightning rod for Bears fans. His input in hiring general managers and coaches was a source of frustration, given his non-football background and the struggles on the field. Though the 2006 team reached the Super Bowl, the Bears have just six playoff appearances and three postseason victories since he became president.
The organization hasn't really divided the business and football operations into separate branches. Until recently, the general manager reported to Phillips rather than McCaskey.
The Bears tweaked their chain of command after last season, when they fired former GM Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy. McCaskey announced at the time the new general manager would report directly to him, though Phillips was still involved in the search. He also said Phillips would focus on the purchase of the land in Arlington Heights.
Phillips was the Bears' point person for the Soldier Field overhaul — another sore spot in Chicago.
The interior was demolished, replaced by a flying saucer-like, glass-dominated structure cantilevered over the famous Greek and Romanesque colonnades, and the stadium lost its National Historic Landmark designation. The renovation also reduced seating for Bears games to 61,500, lowest in the NFL.
Phillips oversaw an expansion in 2012 to Halas Hall that added more than 30,000 square feet to the team’s headquarters. A massive transformation completed in August 2019 gave the Bears expanded locker rooms, weight rooms, conference rooms and offices as well as a new players' lounge and two more practice fields to give the team four in all.
The Bears also moved training camp back to Illinois from Wisconsin during Phillips' tenure as president, holding it at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Illinois, from 2002 to 2019 before moving it to Halas Hall in 2020.
Phillips has served on several NFL committees. He is also on the board of directors of the Bears' philanthropic arm as well as the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce.
Before becoming the team's president, Phillips spent six years as vice president of operations and was director of finance from 1987-93.
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