Despite being one of the NFL's founding teams, the Bears new general manager, Phil Emery, is just the fifth man in franchise history to hold the position. The Michigan native’s ascent to Halas Hall was a three-decade climb through the college and pro systems. Emery considers himself a blessed, blue-collar kid—but at least one former scouting colleague says Emery has spent a lifetime preparing for this situation; and he will succeed.
The son of a General Motors factory worker and a coal miner’s daughter, Emery has always known honest, hard work. He took his first job as a paper boy at 12 then worked his way through the service industry as a dishwasher, a bus boy and a bouncer during his teen years. But it was the two summers he went to work with his dad at the GM plant just outside of Detroit that gave his life direction. Emery says the opportunity greatly enhanced his motivation to graduate from college.
He didn’t have to go very far—Emery played football at nearby Wayne State University. He went on to work as a graduate assistant at Central Michigan, beginning a near-decade run as an assistant within the small-school circuit. Emery credits his versatility to the various odd jobs thrust upon him at those smaller programs.
"Part of when you go to a small school that's an out-of-the-way place that nobody else has ever heard of," Emery said, "is that you have to wear a lot of hats."
At Western New Mexico, where he was hired as an offensive line and strength and conditioning coach, he also served as the de facto equipment manager, manager of the defensive scout team, made travel arrangements, lined the fields and exchanged films with other schools. There was a lot of work for Emery in Billy the Kid’s hometown, Silver City, New Mexico; but there was also a lot of love too: He fell in love with the vast beauty of the American West—and his future wife, Beth.
Beth comes from city stock—her dad was a Wall Street guy and her mother a Columbia-educated nurse. When the two met, Beth was working as a speech language pathologist. After they married, Beth went back to school for a second degree in studio art. She’s now a professional artist—though it is not her only full-time work. She’s also caretaker for their adult daughter, April, who has special needs as a result of a neurological disorder, epilepsy. Emery describes his daughter as a stellar bargain shopper, fierce family coupon clipper and a great football fan. In fact, April’s already zeroed in on her favorite Bears player—newly-acquired free agent, Brandon Marshall.
Emery credits both the women in his life as influential sources of inspiration. He also cites his time working as director of strength and conditioning services at the U.S. Naval Academy as a formative experience; one that helped him understand the power of a shared common goal in the absence of equal talent and or resources of one’s opponents. Further, he says his years with the Midshipmen gave new meaning to the John Paul Jones quote, “It seems to be a law of nature, inflexible and inexorable, that those who will not risk cannot win.”
It’s a quote that carries a lot of meaning and significance to Emery in his daily work. And Lord knows this city wants to win.
Fresh off his first draft, Emery joins Steve Edwards on Afternoon Shift Wednesday before meeting Bears rookies for mini-camp at the end of the week.
Programming Note: Rookies will get a crash-course in all things Bear—but they’ll also get a bit of career counseling. That may sound strange but the average NFL career is only around 3.5 years—on Thursday’s show, our sports culture panel will discuss why players must plan for their future.