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Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren to become new Bears president and CEO

Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren to become new Bears president and CEO
Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren to become new Bears president and CEO 01:23

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren will become the next president and CEO of the Chicago Bears.

Warren will replace Ted Phillips, who is retiring next month after nearly 40 years with the team. Warren will begin his new position in the spring.

"Kevin is a man of integrity, respect and excellence, all of which are critical core values of the Chicago Bears, and we welcome his perspective and diverse thought to lead this storied organization," Bears Chairman George McCaskey said in a statement on the team's website. "He is a proven leader who has many times stepped outside of his comfort zone to challenge status quo for unconventional growth and prosperity. In this role, Warren will serve in the primary leadership position of the franchise to help bring the next Super Bowl championship trophy home to Bears fans."

The hiring was first reported by NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, and later confirmed by CBS Sports' Lead NFL Insider Jonathan Jones. The team has scheduled a noon press conference on Tuesday at Halas Hall to introduce Warren.

Warren, 59, took the Big Ten's top job in 2020 after 22 years in NFL operations with the Los Angeles Rams, Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings.

Given his NFL experience and considering the Big Ten's headquarters are in Rosemont, Illinois -- just outside of Chicago -- a transition to leading the franchise is natural for Warren.

"I am honored and recognize the responsibility bestowed upon me to lead the Chicago Bears during this exciting and pivotal time for the franchise. I look forward to building on the rich tradition that started with George Halas and connecting with the unique and vibrant fanbase in Chicago," Warren said in a statement. "I join the Chicago Bears with gratitude and drive to carry out and build upon the legacy and spirit of this founding franchise and my predecessors. This is a franchise that is respected in all of professional sports, and I am humbled to be selected as the next President & CEO of the Chicago Bears. I sincerely thank Virginia McCaskey, George McCaskey, the McCaskey family, Ted Phillips and the search team, for the responsibility and trust placed in me to lead the Chicago Bears and deliver championships to Chicago."  

He takes over as the Bears CEO in the midst of an ongoing rebuild of the team, under first-year general manager Ryan Poles and first-year head coach Matt Eberflus; as well as an ongoing plan to move the team to Arlington Heights.

It will mark the first time in the team's history that the Bears will have a Black president, Black general manager, and Black quarterback in Justin Fields.

"Kevin is going to be a tremendous resource and I am excited to get started with him," Poles said in a statement. "In my time spent with him during the interview process, it quickly became apparent his resumé and business acumen will be a powerful asset to helping improve our organization and ultimately reach our goal to be a championship organization."  

The Bears announced in September that Phillips would be retiring at the end of the season.

Phillips has been the team's president and CEO since 1999, and before that served in other various executive roles with the team, including as vice president of operations for six years, as director of finance for six years, and as the team's comptroller for four years.

During his time as team president and CEO, Phillips helped oversee the hiring of four general managers: Jerry Angelo in 2001, Phil Emery in 2012, Ryan Pace in 2015, and Ryan Poles in 2022.

He also has been overseeing the Bears efforts to purchase the old Arlington Park racecourse in Arlington Heights for a new stadium complex and entertainment district.

In 2021, the Bears signed a $197 million purchase agreement with Churchill Downs for the 326-acre site of the former Arlington Park racecourse, and remain in negotiations on a contract for the site. In addition to a new stadium, the $5 billion plan for the racetrack site would include parks, fitness centers, hotels, housing, and a sports book for starters.

Warren, who is the first Black commissioner of a Power Five conference, was chief operating officer of the Vikings before coming to the Big Ten, where he has led the conference through a time of upheaval in college athletics. While his tenure with the Big Ten was first marred by the league's early decision to cancel the 2020 football season amid the COVID-19 pandemic (a move that was later reversed with a delayed start for the league), there have been some notable successes in the last couple years.

The Big Ten successfully recruited USC and UCLA away from the Pac-12 with the California powers joining the league as its newest members in 2024. The conference also announced a new seven-year media rights deal with CBS, Fox and NBC that is valued at approximately $1.2 billion annually.

With Warren's departure for the Bears, the Big Ten will enter its second commissioner search of the past four seasons, marking unprecedented turnover in the position after decades of stability. Warren's predecessor, Jim Delany, announced in March of 2019 that he planned to retire after serving in the role since 1989. However, the Big Ten would just be the latest Power Five league to undergo a change in its top spot.

Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark was named to his position on June 29 of this year, while ACC commissioner Jim Phillips and Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff have been in their roles since 2021. SEC commissioner Greg Sankey has been in his role since 2015, making him the longest-tenured Power Five commissioner by a wide margin.

Though the Big Ten has navigated COVID-19, conference realignment and a new media rights deal under Warren, plenty of challenges remain for the conference. Navigating the integration of UCLA and USC into the league will bring challenges. Nationally, the future of name, image and likeness rules in college sports loom large, and the Big Ten commissioner -- whomever it is -- will have a key voice in that conversation.

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