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Saints will miss new Bears GM Ryan Pace

METAIRIE, La. -- Ryan Pace won't be easily replaced in the New Orleans Saints' organization after leaving to become the Chicago Bears' general manager on Thursday.

The 37-year-old -- who becomes the youngest GM in the NFL -- was so valued that the Saints created a new position for him when he received his latest promotion in July 2013.

Pace was promoted to the role of player personnel director, overseeing both the pro and college scouting departments. Before that, the Saints had separate pro and college scouting directors who reported to general manager Mickey Loomis.

So in that sense, Pace was literally one of a kind. And based on the way Loomis and coach Sean Payton lavished him with praise over the years, they certainly felt that way.

"He's a talented guy we have a lot of confidence in. We'd hate to lose him, and yet, he's ready for a general manager's job," Loomis said earlier this week. "I would expect to lose him at some point. It's a good thing, no different than the coaches in the past we've lost to other teams and who had opportunities. It's a good thing when your people are being asked to interview for jobs and promotions."

Pace's last promotion with the Saints was hardly his first. He originally joined the franchise in 2001, just two years removed from his playing days as a defensive end at Eastern Illinois. He started as an assistant in areas such as game-day and training-camp operations before working his way up through the scouting department.

He was promoted to the role of pro scouting director in 2007 before taking over the new role in 2013.

So if you're scoring at home, that's two major promotions during the greatest era of success in Saints history.

Pace's main role over the years has been pro scouting -- which includes both advance scouting of the opponents and evaluating pro prospects around the league, top free-agent targets as well as midseason replacements off the street. Some of the additions Pace was most proud of in recent years included guys like Parys Haralson, Rafael Bush and Keyunta Dawson -- the ones that don't grab the headlines but are required to help build championship contenders.

Even before his promotion, Pace and the pro staff would also assist with college evaluations leading up to the draft. For instance, Pace was assigned to study all of the top offensive tackle prospects in the 2013 draft; the Saints went with Terron Armstead out of Arkansas-Pine Bluff in the third round that year.

Pace's rise certainly has been recognized around the league. He had turned down previous opportunities to interview for general manager jobs with the Miami Dolphins in 2014 and the New York Jets earlier this year.

Former NFL general manager Phil Savage was one of many to chime in on Twitter to sing Pace's praises after the hire. And nothing could be more telling than the fact the Bears quickly snatched him up when he finally agreed to interview for one of these jobs.

But it certainly leaves a void in the Saints' front office.

It will be curious to see if the Saints decide to fill Pace's role with another overall player personnel director or go back to the old system with separate heads of the pro and college departments.

Either way, the Saints will likely lean more heavily on both college scouting director Rick Reiprish and pro scouting director Terry Fontenot, both of whom have been with the organization for more than a decade.

Reiprish's work with the Saints since 2004 and with the Jacksonville Jaguars before that has also been widely praised for years both inside and outside the organization, and his name has also come up in previous general manager searches around the league.

Fontenot, who was promoted to his current role in 2013 following Pace's promotion, followed a similar path up the ranks. He joined the organization right after his playing days as a safety at Tulane and worked his way up through the scouting department, spending seven years as a pro scout.

The Saints could also look to add someone from outside of the organization, especially following a 7-9 season in which Loomis and Payton have vowed to make changes throughout every level of the organization as they evaluate everything with a "critical eye."