At the core of everything the New England Patriots have accomplished is this slogan: “Do your job.”
NFL Films named a documentary after the Bill Belichick quote, and it’s a tenet anyone who has worked under Belichick has come to embrace.
New Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Poles got a lesson in the Patriot Way when he was hired by the Kansas City Chiefs and first-year GM Scott Pioli in 2009. Pioli had strong ties to the Boston College football program while working for the Patriots and knew coach Tom O’Brien well. He immediately hired Poles — who was a recruiting assistant at BC — as a scouting assistant, the bottom of the totem pole in the front office.
Pioli is known for possessing an incredible eye for detail, and he expected everyone working with him to maintain that same level of preparation and meticulous attention.
“It’s a demanding industry, and that’s how I was raised,” Pioli said. “Here’s what I learned early in this business, and Belichick articulated it to me when I worked for him: The more you can do, the more you can do.
“And what that means is when you’re an entry-level person, it’s not always fun, it’s not always rewarding financially, but the more that you can do, part of your reward will be more work. And Poles was all about that.”
Much like developing players on the roster, it’s a way to develop scouts and front-office talent. Poles got emotional Monday talking about the 13 years he spent with the Chiefs while listing some of the people who influenced him.
The job started with the basics:
- Creating headshots of players.
- Editing cut-ups of film for the scouting staff.
- An advance of a preseason opponent.
- If that went well, an advance of a regular-season game and the chance to present it to the coaching staff.
- Writing up a couple of prospects for the draft.
- Getting a small area to cover as a college scout.
“Every time Ryan was given a job and responsibility, he worked his butt off,” Pioli said. “He’s smart, hard-working and focused — hyperfocused — and he has incredible organizational skills. When you have to start delegating things, Poles was one of the people who always got the job done, got it done efficiently and never got rattled.
“He was exceedingly hard-working but he never showed it. You know how certain people will do things to let you know they are working hard? He didn’t do that. He just worked hard. He never talked about being there late in the office. He just did it.”
Poles kept ticking off assignments and taking on more work. The foundation began with helping organize the Chiefs scouting system. The team used a nine-point scale for grading college prospects, and the verbiage had to match the numerical grade. When it didn’t, there was a problem and people had to be held accountable.
That led to then-college scouting director Phil Emery and Poles working to create a system in which scouting assistants could review reports from area scouts and make sure each one was on point.
“I didn’t know at the time how much it was developing me, but I would read all of the scouts’ reports and red-ink them, finding those issues where it wasn’t consistent in terms of what you graded him and what you said,” Poles said. “It’s critical because as a decision maker, when you read reports you need all of that to tie together.
“Just repping that out over and over, you not only got a sense of how to write but also how to evaluate and look at those specific traits and then use your words to match up.”
After a year, Poles had the title of college scouting coordinator, and his workload expanded exponentially even before John Dorsey arrived as the GM in 2013. Poles was helping with crosschecking reports on offensive linemen, and he effectively became the college scouting director under Pioli, even if he didn’t earn that title until 2016.
“It just kept growing and growing and growing, and that mentality, as much as we struggled as a team, I called Scott and was really emotional because that foundation was huge to getting me here today,” Poles said. “That mental toughness, doing things the right way with discipline, if I didn’t have that, I definitely wouldn’t be here.”
The arrival of Dorsey after Pioli was fired at the end of the 2012 season opened Poles’ eyes to another part of the process, one he embraces and says he will use as the Bears begin the challenging task of rebuilding their roster to fit what new coach Matt Eberflus and his staff want.
The Chiefs would reach the end of a season and begin evaluating the roster in preparation for free agency. Then they would open a big room to the entire scouting staff. Here’s how it would start: This is our roster. Our needs are this, this and this. Let’s go to work.
“We would literally sit there and crank tape, 14 days,” Poles said. “You could speak your mind. (Director of player personnel Chris) Ballard (now the Indianapolis Colts GM) coined it ‘a room of candor.’ Say what you want to say. Have pushback. If you don’t see it, say it. And we’re going to find truth. The big thing is having respect for each other where it doesn’t get out of hand. But I found that you can get the truth pretty quick.
“I’ve been in situations where you just read your report and it’s more creative writing (that) can get a player to move up. This you can’t hide. The player is the player. If you say he can catch really well and we’re watching three games and he’s dropping like every ball, you might have missed something.”
The same process was repeated for the draft, a grueling two-week stretch of meetings in which discussion, analysis and pushback wasn’t just accepted, it was encouraged. In this system, a Northeast scout would be exposed to the rest of the players in the nation, and so on.
“You see the full spectrum of players and your reps in terms of being an evaluator just goes up and everyone gets better from the process,” Poles said. “That is the biggest thing.
“I texted John — this is before I started the interview process — I said I just want to thank you because I wouldn’t be able to evaluate like I do now if it wasn’t for you. It took the evaluation process to the next level.”
The Chiefs continued that collaborative approach when Brett Veach succeeded Dorsey as GM in 2017. They used the process last February when revamping the offensive line after a deflating Super Bowl loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Poles has that collective experience of working under three GMs in Kansas City to draw from as he settles into his new position as the 36-year-old boss of the entire Bears football operation. He’s hitting the ground running, working with Eberflus to fill out the coaching staff while getting to know the scouting personnel in place and getting a better grasp on the roster and the Bears’ list of needs.
Maybe he wasn’t born for this job, but he determined at a young age — shortly after his playing career with the Bears as an undrafted offensive lineman ended in 2008 — that it was one he wanted to pursue with passion.
“The thought of building a roster just always resonated with me,” Poles said. “And it’s what I wanted to do. I think it’s interesting to be able to change the culture of a team by bringing in people that reflect that. If you keep adding those same type of players to the roster, all of a sudden you’re tough, you’re passionate, you run hard to the ball. You’re violent. You’re fast.
“To me it’s a really cool process, and when you see the end result, I think that’s very rewarding.”
Bears fans will take heart in the fact Poles sees a team being built from the inside out, beginning with the middle of the line on each side of the ball. That’s where it sounds like the heavy lifting will begin.
“He’s an amazing combination of strength and humility,” Pioli said. “He’s about the greater good. He has a true offensive lineman’s heart.”
As the 65-minute news conference wrapped up Monday afternoon at Halas Hall, Poles’ precocious young daughter, Jordyn, was bouncing around the front of the George “Mugs” Halas auditorium.
“Bear down,” she kept repeating.
Chairman George McCaskey and President/CEO Ted Phillips nodded approvingly. It’s a little detail that even the youngest member of the Poles family already figured out.