LAKE FOREST, Ill. – New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton reminisced about how a trip to a job fair hosted by the Saints in early 2001 changed Ryan Pace’s life forever.
“Ryan’s story is interesting because after he finishes college he’s down with his [future] wife in the islands somewhere figuring out what he’s going to do ... writing letters to football teams, baseball teams ... to anybody that will listen,” Payton said Wednesday on ESPN 1000’s “Carmen & Jurko Show.”
“So, he shows up – I wasn’t here in New Orleans yet – but he shows up for like a job fair day where you have a line out the door. He makes his way in the building [by earning one of our internships] and advances ... starts by running coffee and running draft players to the airport and slowly worked his way up.”
Pace parlayed all of that grunt work into a 14-year career with the Saints where he held titles of director of player personnel, director of pro scouting, pro scout and scouting assistant.
The Chicago Bears hired Pace away from New Orleans on Jan. 8, 2015, to replace former general manager Phil Emery, who lasted only three years on the job.
“When he got that job I was just finishing up my suspension (for the bounty scandal) ... that was a big loss for us because he was someone that I trusted and went to daily with personnel thoughts,” Payton said. “He’s definitely fit and experienced for it [to be a general manager], and I’m sure that he’s got them going in the right direction.
“I think he has a great demeanor and I think he has a great eye for talent. One of his greatest strengths in our business is his ability to communicate the message throughout the building. There’s a genuineness about him that is real.”
Pace returns to New Orleans on Sunday with a 12-27 record as general manager.
Still, the Bears (3-4) are receiving valuable contributions in 2017 from young players such as quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, running backs Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen, safety Eddie Jackson and outside linebacker Leonard Floyd – all of whom were drafted by Pace.
Former Saint Akiem Hicks – Pace’s best free agent signing – is playing at a Pro Bowl level with six sacks in seven games.
“I know Foxy [Bears coach John Fox] well enough and that whole group there – there’s a number of people that I’ve worked together with – and I know that they have the correct vision,” Payton said. “It started with [drafting Trubisky] so give Ryan and that group credit for making that decision.”