Almost 15 minutes had passed since the end of Phil Emery’s 53-minute news conference, and the Bears general manager casually was holding court with a few reporters.
Emery was explaining that Bears rookie defensive end Shea McClellin and New England Patriots rookie defensive end Chandler Jones graded out almost identically as pass rushers this season, even though McClellin had 2½ sacks and Jones had six.
Off the top of his head, Emery reeled off something called a disruption rate.
McClellin’s was 3.97. Jones’ was 4.10.
“I mean, the difference is only 0.13,” Emery said with a chuckle as he waited for a reaction.
I smiled and nodded. I had no idea what he was talking about.
I do know that Emery is the right person to hire the Bears’ next head coach.
A rare public appearance by Emery proved that he hasn’t been playing Solitaire in his office for the two-and-a-half months between interviews. He has been traveling the country to scout college players, combing through advanced statistics to evaluate his 53-man roster, and – as of this week – finalizing a list of candidates for the Bears’ next coach.
“To me, I have the best job in the world,” Emery said. “Not the country. In the world.”
Sometimes, general managers can be likeable but bumbling. Emery’s predecessor, Jerry Angelo, was that way during much of his 11-year tenure with the Bears.
Other times, they can be laser sharp but grumpy. Ken Williams of the White Sox, anyone?
In a revealing question-and-answer session Monday, Emery proved to possess the best combination of traits for Bears fans. His football knowledge is off the charts, and he is happy to share some of his insights as long as it doesn’t jeopardize the Bears’ coaching search.
But don’t confuse friendliness for softness.
As this week has proved, Emery is willing to make tough decisions in the name of winning a Super Bowl. Most teams would embrace a 10-win season. Emery fired his coach after one.
Players and coaches also should brace for honest assessments from their general manager. Emery offered an unflinching criticism of erratic tight end Kellen Davis – “Kellen had a rough year” – and said he was disappointed with how the Bears’ coaches failed to use Matt Forte more in the receiving game – “I’m going to be frank: Matt was brought back, and I was excited about his signing, because a big part of that is him as a pass receiver.”
Although he is social, Emery prefers to do his work behind the scenes. When he’s not out scouting, he works from a second-floor office at Halas Hall that is off-limits to reporters.
Even his players don’t know much about him or his day-to-day dealings.
Fourth-year nickelback D.J. Moore said Emery did not meet with players to explain his decision to fire their popular coach.
“Not that I know of,” Moore said with a shrug. “He might have pulled a couple of superstars off to the side, but he didn’t talk to the team while I was in there.”
Moore was not alone.
Bears quarterback Jay Cutler described his interactions with Emery as if he were talking about a reclusive neighbor who lives at the end of the block.
“Here and there. Limited,” Cutler said. “Phil keeps to himself. You know he has a plan. He’s on the road a lot. He’s doing a lot of scouting. He’s a grinder.
“That’s kind of what got him this far. Once you’re around him even just a little bit, he exudes confidence. You know he’s going to make the right decisions.”
Maybe that’s why Emery likes statistics so much. They remove emotion from the equation when he has to release a player or tell a coach that he is no longer needed.
Ultimately, the only people within the organization to whom Emery must answer are chairman George McCaskey and team president Ted Phillips. They listened when Emery came to them and explained why he wanted to replace Smith after nine seasons, and they told him to go ahead and do what he thought was best for the team.
Likewise, Emery will hire the next head coach. McCaskey and Phillips will participate in interviews once two or three finalists are selected, but the choice is Emery’s to make.
“We’re very confident in Phil,” McCaskey said. “He’s done an outstanding job since he’s been there, and Ted and I have complete faith in him, our family has complete faith in him, to make the right choice to get the Bears back to a championship level.”
That’s why Emery eventually had to return to his office after Monday’s marathon news conference. He could have talked about one-gap defenses and midfield receiving targets and disruption rates all day. But important work remains.
• Tom Musick covers Chicago professional sports for the Northwest Herald. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.