Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren has been named the next president/CEO of the Chicago Bears, the franchise announced Thursday. 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.
"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 H. McCaskey said (via the team 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."
Warren, first Black commissioner of a Power Five conference, was the Vikings' chief operating officer before joining the Big Ten, where he 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.
"I am honored and recognize the responsibility bestowed upon me to lead the Chicago Bears during this exciting and pivotal time for the franchise," Warren said (via the team website). "I look forward to building on the rich tradition that started with George Halas and connecting with the unique and vibrant fanbase in Chicago. 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."
“I look forward to continually being able to live my dream based upon his dream that we need to come together as a people.”— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) January 16, 2023
Each and every day, @KevinFWarren seeks to fulfill the dreams of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. pic.twitter.com/17kD2ZNmMf
What's next for the Bears?
Ted Phillips, who has been president and CEO of the Bears since 1999, is retiring February after 40 seasons with one of the NFL's most storied franchises. 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.
Warren's tenure in Chicago will begin April 17, per ESPN.
"It was important to ensure the Bears had the right leader in place before I retired," Phillips said (via the team website). "Kevin will do an excellent job of bringing the best out of the great people at Halas Hall and continue the evolution of our proud franchise."
The Bears are eyeing a new stadium in the years to come, and Warren's experience overseeing a stadium deal for the Vikings makes him a comfortable fit with the franchise's biggest upcoming project.
Warren's Bears hold the No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming 2023 NFL Draft after posting a league-worst 3-14 record. While Chicago didn't find much on-field success in 2022 under first-year head coach Matt Eberflus, it did see Justin Fields make a huge jump as a quarterback.
The former No. 11 overall pick threw for 2,242 yards, 17 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in 15 games played, and he also became just the third quarterback in NFL history to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a single season, as Fields racked up 1,143 yards and eight touchdowns. General manager Ryan Poles has done a solid job setting Chicago up for this rebuild, as the Bears have seven picks in the 2023 draft.
"Kevin is going to be a tremendous resource and I am excited to get started with him," general manager Ryan Poles said (via the team website). "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."
What's next for the Big Ten?
The conference will enter its second commissioner search over the last four seasons, marking unprecedented turnover in the position after decades of stability. Warren's predecessor, Jim Delany, announced in March 2019 that he planned to retire after serving in the role since 1989.
The Big Ten is just 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 was promoted in 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 USC and UCLA into the league will need a deft hand. Nationally, the future of name, image and likeness rules in college sports looms large, and the Big Ten commissioner -- whomever it will be -- must be a key voice in that conversation as the leader of one of the nation's top two conferences alongside the SEC.