LAKE FOREST, Ill. - The Chicago Bears hired New Orleans Saints executive Ryan Pace as general manager Thursday to replace the fired Phil Emery, hoping he can rejuvenate a franchise that just missed the playoffs for the seventh time in eight years.
Pace spent 14 seasons with the Saints and helped build a Super Bowl champion. He was New Orleans' director of player personnel the past two years, helping manage their pro and college scouting operations. He also served as the team's director of pro scouting from 2007 to 2012.
He will join a team coming off a miserable, 5-11 season. The Bears quickly fell out of contention in the NFC North, costing Emery and coach Marc Trestman their jobs, and had all sorts of distractions derail a season that began with legitimate thoughts of a playoff berth.
The Bears also interviewed Kansas City Chiefs director of player personnel Chris Ballard, who spent 12 years in Chicago working under Emery and his predecessor Jerry Angelo, along with Tennessee Titans vice president of player personnel Lake Dawson and Houston Texans director of pro personnel Brian Gaine.
As for the coaching job, the Bears have interviewed Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and Denver offensive coordinator Adam Gase for that position.
The Bears must decide if they're going to stick with quarterback Jay Cutler after the offense took a big step backward and do something about a defense that has ranked among the league's worst the past two years.
Pace, who grew up in Texas and played defensive end at Eastern Illinois in the late 1990s, has a daunting task as he tries to rebuild the team and win back fans after they stayed away from Soldier Field by the thousands late in the season.
Chicago has been to the playoffs just four times since the start of the 1995 season. Only Oakland (three), Houston (two) and Cleveland (one) have fewer appearances in that span.
The Bears thought they had a contender with a prolific offense returning intact and a rebuilt defense in tow. But little went right for Chicago.
Trestman, who was hired to get the most out of Cutler, even benched the highly paid quarterback in favor of Jimmy Clausen for the second-to-last game of the season against Detroit. Cutler wound up starting the final game after Clausen suffered a concussion against the Lions, adding another chapter to a season-long soap opera.
The Bears joined the 1923 Rochester Jeffersons as the only teams to give up 50 or more points in back-to-back games in losses to New England and Green Bay. Defensive end Lamarr Houston also suffered a season-ending knee injury celebrating a meaningless sack against the Patriots.
While the new general manager's most immediate task is to find a coach, some big decisions about the roster loom. Topping that list is Cutler, who signed a $126 million, seven-year contract at the end of last season and then tied Philip Rivers for the league lead with 18 interceptions.
The deal, which guaranteed $54 million, makes him difficult if not impossible to trade. Another possibility is cutting him. Wide receiver Brandon Marshall's future with the team is also in question even though he signed a three-year extension through 2017 last May.
And a defense that ranked among the league's worst the past two years under coordinator Mel Tucker still needs a major upgrade. The overhaul that brought in Jared Allen among others last offseason did not pay off, and a spotty draft record by Emery and predecessor Jerry Angelo left the Bears lacking depth.