LAKE FOREST – There was once a time when they were on opposite ends of a major college football argument.
Kevin Warren made a decision that Justin Fields disagreed with in August 2020 when it came to playing football during the pandemic. Eventually, things worked out for both men in their respective places, and a few years later, they are on the same team.
But if you think there is any tension between Fields and Warren, the Bears’ new president and CEO was quick to dismiss that notion on Tuesday at his introductory news conference at Halas Hall.
“I have the greatest amount of respect for him because I know he’s going to do everything he possibly can with the talent that he has to be a leader, and he wants to win championships,” said Warren of Fields.
The question that prompted that statement concerned his relationship with the Bears’ starting quarterback going back to the days when Warren was the Big Ten commissioner and Fields was at Ohio State.
In August 2020, Warren made the decision to postpone the Big Ten football season along with other fall sports due to the COVID-19 pandemic, receiving the support of conference presidents and chancellors. Fields disagreed, and tweeted a petition to get the 2020 season started in the fall, which got over 300,000 signatures
On September 16, Warren and the Big Ten changed course, and held a reduced season starting in late October and finishing before the Christmas holiday.
Despite their disagreement, there was never any animosity between Warren and Fields, primarily because the commissioner understood what the quarterback was thinking.
“I’ll say this: If I had been in the Big Ten at that time, I would have done the same thing,” said Warren of Fields. “What that told me about Justin is he’s passionate. Now, my whole goal was trying to keep players safe. I appreciated him, to be able to take that leadership role.”
Fields will do so as Warren now takes over the president’s role with the organization in 2023. The pair got the chance to say hello on his introduction day at Halas Hall, but it was hardly the first time they’d talked since their disagreement back in 2020.
“I called him on draft day (April, 2021). I was ecstatic when he got drafted by the Bears because that’s what you need from a leadership standpoint,” said Warren on Fields. “But I have a strong personal relationship with him. He’s talented. He’s a leader. I loved his passion.”
Warren will get to experience that on a daily basis in his new job.