Northeast Times

Words of wisdom

Chica­go Bears front of­fice ex­ec­ut­ive Cliff Stein gives com­mence­ment speech at George Wash­ing­ton 28 years after gradu­at­ing.

  • Cliff Stein poses in the principal’s office before delivering Washington’s commencement address.

  • Stein can be seen in his high school football photo.

  • From G.W. to the NFL: Cliff Stein currently serves as the Vice President of Football Administration and General Counsel for the Chicago Bears. He graduated from Washington in 1985. PHOTOS COURTESY OF CLIFF STEIN

Cliff Stein had a simple mes­sage for the 2013 gradu­at­ing class of George Wash­ing­ton High School:

Don’t let them see you com­ing.

Those six words are ones Stein has lived by since gradu­at­ing from Wash­ing­ton in 1985. When he com­pleted his stud­ies as a high school­er, Stein didn’t have much go­ing for him.

He was an av­er­age stu­dent and an OK foot­ball play­er, but he left the school without much of a plan for his fu­ture, be it col­lege or something else.

Twenty-eight years later, Stein was on a plane from Chica­go to Phil­adelphia to share words of wis­dom and his own im­prob­able tale of suc­cess with hun­dreds of gradu­at­ing seni­ors.

“I wanted to give them my story,” Stein said. “Be­cause I was the guy no one saw com­ing.”

For the last 11 years, Stein has been em­ployed by the Chica­go Bears of the Na­tion­al Foot­ball League. In 2011, he was ap­poin­ted Vice Pres­id­ent of Foot­ball Ad­min­is­tra­tion and Gen­er­al Coun­sel. In this role, Stein is Chica­go’s lead ne­go­ti­at­or for all play­er con­tracts, as well as as­sist­ing gen­er­al man­ager Phil Emery in plan­ning and man­aging the team’s salary cap, ac­cord­ing to his pro­file on the Bears’ web­site. 

To un­der­stand how Stein got to where he is, one must un­der­stand his re­la­tion­ship with Ron Co­hen, Wash­ing­ton’s le­gendary long­time head foot­ball coach. Co­hen ar­rived at the school as an as­sist­ant to­ward the end of Stein’s high school ca­reer, so he only played un­der Co­hen for a short time.

But Stein kept Co­hen close as an ad­viser and ment­or as he tried to fig­ure out his next step after high school. Ul­ti­mately it led Stein to Temple Uni­versity, where he com­pleted his un­der­gradu­ate and law school stud­ies in six years. As a young law­yer and sports agent, one of Stein’s first foot­ball job op­por­tun­it­ies was presen­ted by Co­hen, who put Stein on the board of the Phil­adelphia City All-Star Game.

“Ron is an amaz­ing per­son, and I made sure to tell the kids to stay with this guy, be­cause he can really help your life,” Stein said. “I kept Ron in my net­work of people, and that nev­er stopped. When I was a young law­yer and agent, he helped me with all of his foot­ball con­nec­tions. I al­ways saw him as more of a ment­or than a coach be­cause of what he does for kids from a char­ac­ter stand­point off the field. If he tells me some­body is a good guy, I trust him.”

Not long ago, Co­hen re­com­men­ded Stein take a look at An­dre Odom, one of count­less dis­ciples who the vet­er­an coach has transitioned from a troubled back­ground to a lim­it­less fu­ture. Odom had served as an as­sist­ant foot­ball coach at Temple for two years, and was also a ment­or to Shar­rif Floyd, the 2010 Wash­ing­ton grad who was just se­lec­ted in the first round of April’s NFL Draft by the Min­nesota Vik­ings.

Co­hen vouched for Odom, and Stein re­spon­ded by help­ing Odom land a job with the Bears as a scout­ing as­sist­ant for the com­ing sea­son. The hir­ing of Odom is proof that even 30 years later, Stein hasn’t for­got­ten what Co­hen did for him. Now, he says, it’s his turn to give back.

“Back then, I had no plan for life … I had no job and I wasn’t en­rolled in col­lege,” Stein said. “Truth was, I didn’t know what to do. I got my act to­geth­er, but it took me time. Things happened for me be­cause there were people who be­lieved in me, which in turn helped me be­lieve in my­self.”

Stein’s mes­sage to Wash­ing­ton’s seni­ors was simple: 1) Be­lieve in your­self, which is how you get oth­ers to be­lieve in you; 2) Have hu­mil­ity, for someone who does spe­cial things in life does not need to brag, and 3) Hard work is the found­a­tion for every suc­cess­ful per­son. As a gradu­ate of George Wash­ing­ton, Stein told the stu­dents, “You’ll be the un­der­dog. You’ll be un­der­rated and un­der­es­tim­ated, and people will doubt you.”

“I told them to keep their ment­ors in their life forever,” Stein said. “When you go to G.W., kids ap­pre­ci­ate everything they re­ceive, be­cause every level of suc­cess is un­ex­pec­ted. I spoke to those kids, 25 per­cent of whom wer­en’t en­rolled in col­lege yet, to give them hope. That’s who I was. I let them know every one of them can do something spe­cial with their lives.

“If you be­lieve in your­self, then you can chal­lenge your­self to do something really good. Be proud of where you come from, and be will­ing to work harder than the guy next to you. Use where you came from as an in­spir­a­tion to do great things. I wanted to give them something to strive for.”

In fact, Wash­ing­ton holds such a spe­cial place in Stein’s heart, that when Floyd couldn’t speak at the com­mence­ment due to a pri­or com­mit­ment with the Vik­ings, Co­hen picked up the phone and called Stein. 

Stein didn’t hes­it­ate for a second. Des­pite the fact that he has pro­gress­ively climbed the pro­fes­sion­al lad­der with­in the Bears’ or­gan­iz­a­tion for more than a dec­ade, Stein hasn’t for­got­ten the 18-year-old ver­sion of him­self, the same jokester who packed a wa­ter pis­tol un­der his gradu­ation gown in 1985.

“I wanted to teach the kids to do the right thing by show­ing, not telling,” Stein said. “Be first class, wherever you are. Treat all people with the same amount of re­spect, no mat­ter what your title or po­s­i­tion is. That’s what Ron does, and that’s what I want to do by giv­ing back.

“I haven’t for­got­ten who I am, nor that this place was a part of my life. I want to help oth­ers from Wash­ing­ton, to give them an un­der­stand­ing where I came from so they can try and walk in my shoes. They won’t see us com­ing, but we can do great things. It’s a part of me, and I’m really honored.” ••

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