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Do Ex-Big 4 Accountants Make Good NFL Team CEOs?

football on green grass

Last week the Chicago Bears introduced Kevin Warren, most recently commissioner of the Big Ten Conference who also has 21 years of experience as an NFL team executive, as the franchise’s fifth president and CEO in its 103-year history. Warren succeeds Ted Phillips who is retiring after 40 seasons with the Bears, including the last 23 as president and CEO.

If you Google “NFL CEOs accountant,” only one name pops up: Phillips’. That’s because he served a tour of duty in Uncle Ernie’s Army before joining the Bears. From his official bio:

Phillips served as the Bears Vice President of Operations for six seasons starting in 1993.Before becoming Vice President of Operations, Phillips served as the Director of Finance from 1987-93. Phillips joined the Bears staff on September 28, 1983, as the team’s Controller, a position he held for four years.

Prior to joining the Bears, Phillips was employed as an auditor and tax accountant with the international accounting firm Ernst & Whinney (now Ernst & Young), from 1979-83. He graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 1979 with a degree in business and accounting. Phillips earned a Master of Marketing and management degree from the Kellogg Graduate School at Northwestern University in 1989.

Ted Phillips

During Phillips’ tenure as president and CEO of the Bears, the team went 180-206 (winning percentage of .466) and finished the 2022 season with a record of 3-14—the most losses in franchise history. The Bears did go to a Super Bowl under Phillips’ watch (a 29-17 loss to the Indianapolis Colts in 2007), but the team only had six total playoff appearances and three victories in his 23 years as chief executive. 

Phillips biggest failure was probably the $690 million renovation of Soldier Field two decades ago. Anyone who has attended a game there or has seen the stadium on TV knows that it looks like a spaceship landed on what used to be a beautiful piece of historic architecture. And Soldier Field remains the smallest stadium in the NFL with a seating capacity of 61,500. The Bears will most likely be leaving Soldier Field and building a new stadium complex in the Chicago suburb of Arlington Heights on the grounds of the former Arlington Park horse race track. And fortunately for Bears fans, Phillips won’t be anywhere near that stadium’s development.

Before Phillips announced his retirement, the Bears blog Windy City Gridiron looked back at his career and wrote:

In a league that’s evolving in how teams are managed, Chicago’s atmosphere at the top of the organization has gone stale. Considering the spike in data analytics, modern fan engagement techniques, trends in roster management and contract negotiation strategies; the McCaskeys [the family that owns the Bears] need someone who’s actively aware of these developments. A football person is needed for their chief football position, not an accountant.

Not to say Ted is a bad accountant, the Notre Dame and Northwestern Grad is well rehearsed when it comes to crunching numbers.

Alas, the point remains where a person who’s “in the know” and understands the modern game of football is truly what’s needed to get these Chicago Bears into the 21st century.

Despite being a small sample size, the answer to the question “Do ex-Big 4 accountants make good NFL team CEOs?” is a resounding …

One thought on “Do Ex-Big 4 Accountants Make Good NFL Team CEOs?

  1. The Bears need a good quarterback more than a “relevant” CEO. Ever since Jay Cutler moved on after quarterbacking for 6 years, the Bears have had 4 quarterbacks in 7 years. There needs to be consistency in that position so receivers get on the same page as the quarterback. A case in point is Trevor Lawrence and Jim Burrow, both of whom needed 2-3 years to shine. Both of whom have led their teams to playoff births, with Burrow going to the 2022 Super Bowl.

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