PALM BEACH, Fla. — This will be Ryan Poles’ closest break in two months since taking on the most pressured job in Chicago sports: fixing the wayward Bears.
Decades of mediocrity cloud the sky over Halas Hall, but the Poles are a world away from that at the NFL’s annual meeting. It has an ocean view at the lavish 1920s-style Breakers resort, and while it’s a business trip, it’s the best business trip possible.
Another meeting has just ended, and walking into a room full of head coaches and fellow general managers knowing he is now their peer was surreal for the Poles. He’s a little stunned that Steelers coach Mike Tomlin knows his name and stopped by to say hello.
There are many adjustments like this when you’re 36 and have spent your career working in the background.
The work, however, is nothing new. Studying cinema, calculating salary caps and debating personnel are in the comfort zone of Poles. Still, he’s been working there non-stop since late January and could enjoy a few days out of the office.
“It’s fine to relax a bit, but your brain is still working,” Poles told The Sun-Times, leaning forward in his chair in the lobby. “Free agency is still going on… We all have our scouts on the road doing pro days, giving me information.
“So your brain never shuts down. It’s fine to slow down for just a minute, but there’s a lot going on.
He’s not as busy as his wife Katie, he admits.
She is back in Kansas City to balance school and sports schedules for their two children. She more than deserved a vacation. She’s free all day – a luxury more lavish than The Breakers itself. As the surest sign that the Poles have good judgment, they left the children with his parents and sister.
As his family wraps up the school year, Poles becomes engrossed in what appears to be the task of tearing down the faulty structure he inherited. The boldest part of his takedown so far has been trading star Khalil Mack for draft picks. Once he’s done cleaning up, he aspires to build something magnificent with the tantalizing offer of cap space and draft picks awaiting him next year.
He hired Eagles executive Ian Cunningham as assistant general manager, and they rented accommodation together. The alarm goes off at 5:15 a.m., they’re out within 15 minutes, and they hit Starbucks on the way to work. After a quick practice session, they analyze their plans for the Bears until about 11 p.m.
“It’s stressful, I don’t get much sleep, but I often interrupt meetings and make sure everyone realizes that this is what we call ‘work’ and that it’s fun,” said he declared. “I never go to work feeling like it’s work…I’m having a blast.”
That’s partly because he hasn’t yet felt the breath of pressure that will come if things go wrong, as the Bears usually do.
Their recent futility is not the fault of the Poles, but it persists nonetheless. He hit that first day head-on, when he announced his intention to snatch the NFC North from the Packers.
“The big thing for me, and everyone will know over time: I care,” he said. “I know how much the Bears mean to Chicago. It’s a lot of responsibility.
“But I just want to do a really good job for the city. I want them to be able to go to their games on Sunday and have fun. There is pressure with that, but it motivates me.
He received a reminder of the stakes of this meeting Sunday with the coaches and general managers of the NFL. While it was cool to finally be in this sphere, it struck the Poles that these faces change every year.
Going through the door is one thing. Returning is another.
“There are people coming and going,” he said soberly. “You want to be one of those devices that’s been around for a long time. With success and winning, that’s how you stay in the room.