PITTSBURGH -- Only after the decision had been made, after the paperwork had been signed and once general manager A.J. Preller was sitting next to him on a plane did Padres president and CEO Mike Dee finally allow himself to exhale on Wednesday.
Exhale, but not entirely unplug.
As the plane headed from Dallas to San Diego for Preller's introductory news conference, Dee reached for his phone -- first to check email, though it quickly turned into a trip down memory lane, as he relived the journey it took to find a new general manager.
"On the flight back, I went back through my Outlook [email], reflecting on the last five weeks, looking at the days and times," Dee said.
Dee estimated it took around 125 hours to interview eight candidates, four of whom -- Preller included -- got a second interview. That didn't account for the 30-40 hours of deliberating en route to a final decision and the time spent on initial and secondary reference checks, Dee said.
San Diego executive chairman Ron Fowler estimated the final total to be somewhere around 200 hours.
And while from the outside it may have seemed the Padres were holding initial interviews at a quick pace -- they did interview the eight candidates over a dizzying span of 15 days -- the process was anything but rushed, according to those who took part in it.
A handful of candidates, speaking to MLB.com on the condition of anonymity, spoke of how impressed -- and even slightly surprised -- they were during the interview process, especially since Fowler, Dee and investor Peter Seidler don't come from baseball operations backgrounds.
"They ran a relaxed and easy-flowing process, but it was organized and pointed," said one candidate. "I left my interview with a great feeling for Ron, Peter and Mike. [They are] terrific people who seem to want to get it right."
The candidates were certainly a diverse group in age and experience.
Larry Beinfest, the first person to interview, was the architect of the 2003 World Series champion Marlins. He had the most experience of the group.
Logan White, the Dodgers' vice president of amateur scouting, has his fingerprints all over Los Angeles' 40-man roster, having made the call on drafting Clayton Kershaw, Matt Kemp and many others. Ray Montgomery, director of scouting for the D-backs, is said to have a keen eye for talent as well.
Josh Stein, the only internal candidate to interview for the job, started with the Padres in 2003 as a baseball ops intern. Stein is a San Diego native who grew up a Padres fan and has moved up the organizational ladder, and he might one day head his own department.
Mike Hazen (assistant GM, Red Sox) and Billy Eppler (assistant GM, Yankees) are well respected in the industry and atop any wish list for teams looking to build a list of GM candidates. Kim Ng, senior vice president of baseball operations for Major League Baseball, impressed Fowler, Dee and Seidler.
"We were really fortunate," Dee said. "This process showed us just how much talent really exists in this game. It also showed us that people in the game want to be here."
There were a handful of other notable people who declined to be interviewed for the job for reasons known only to them.
"Mike really designed as thorough an interview process as one could," Seidler said. "All the credit goes to Mike. He dug deep. He found the best and the brightest in baseball."
Nearly all of the initial interviews followed the same schedule:
• The morning session was almost always a 3-on-1 interview with Fowler, Dee and Seidler and the candidate, though it didn't feel like an interview, most candidates said.
"It was more 'Get to know you,'" said one candidate.
The four would then have lunch.
• After lunch, the nitty gritty. One-on-one interviews, with Fowler, Dee and Seidler taking turns and asking philosophical questions about the structure of a department; thoughts on San Diego's 25- and 40-man roster, Minor League system and coaching staff; and the current state of the organization.
The team asked candidates about mentors, their thoughts on the First-Year Player Draft, the international market -- something of great importance to the Padres -- and how to structure player development from top to bottom, one candidate noted.
This wasn't just reading questions from a prepared list, one candidate said. If there was something that resonated with one of the three front-office members, they stopped and asked more questions about a particular detail.
"These were full-day interviews," Seidler said. "It was an exhaustive process but well worth the time."
• The day often concluded with dinner at Fowler's favorite restaurant in Rancho Santa Fe, Delicias, where they say the pan-seared salmon with corn spaetzle melts in your mouth. The seafood entrées were favorites among the group, though Fowler preferred the wood-fired pizzas and hamburgers.
"There were a lot of good dinners," Dee said.
While the process was certainly designed at finding a successor to former GM Josh Byrnes, who was dismissed on June 22, Fowler, Dee and Seidler were also able to gain insight into how others in the industry viewed the Padres' current state.
"We learned a lot along the way," Dee said.
"They gave us an honest evaluation of what we have here in San Diego," Seidler said.
In the end, Preller stood out among the candidates as a result of his words, background and what he has planned for the organization. There was a quiet passion with Preller, a sense of intensity, like he was ready to get started right there and then. That wasn't lost on Fowler, Dee and Seidler.
"What resonated with me was his passion for baseball, his creativity and his work ethic," Seidler said. "All those three things were off the charts. I love a creative approach to a problem or to an objective. I think the creative way he articulated that, how he was going to build this, the winning formula he had in mind, impressed all of us."