Published October 25, 2016
Not all colleges exude an air of higher academia.
The Chicago Cubs of the 1960s were proof of that.
Sometimes consistent ineptitude breeds desperation. Or, it simply breeds more ineptitude.
It was probably a little of both that drove Cubs owner P.K. Wrigley into trotting out something that at best could have been considered bold and at worst…well, there are too many negative adjectives to fill in there.
Wrigley proposed a “college of coaches” for his Cubs after the 1960 season. To be fair, you can also partially blame Cubs coach and backup catcher El Tappe for the idea.
The Cubs had just completed their 14th consecutive second division finish in 1960—defined as finishing in fifth place or worse in the eight-team league—when Wrigley asked Tappe for advice on who to choose to replace deposed manager Charlie Grimm.
Tappe floated the idea that while he wasn’t sure about the manager, the Cubs should install eight coaches—four from the minor leagues and four from the Cubs—and don’t allow the new manager to choose them.
The eight coaches, Tappe reasoned, would at least provide consistency during the inevitable managerial changes that would occur in the future. Good thing that Tappe was so confident in his boss’ ability to pick a new skipper!
Wrigley liked the idea but took it one step further. And this is where it gets really weird.
Wrigley decided that he wouldn’t choose a manager at all.
Instead, the coaches would rotate, with each of them taking turns as “head coach.”
“Managers are expendable,” Wrigley said. “I believe there should be relief managers just like relief pitchers.” Wrigley, maybe being fed by Tappe’s outlook, saw the manager as someone who was always being fired anyway, so why not be up front and rotate them with impunity?
The so-called “college of coaches” was met with ridicule, bemusement and derision.
The head coach rotated among four men in 1961 and three men in 1962. But the four head coaches all had different styles and theories on how the Cubs should play.
Chaos reigned—and the losses continued to pile up. There was in-fighting, and not always with the players. The college of coaches sometimes didn’t see eye-to-eye. Feathers were ruffled.
The success—or lack thereof—was hardly surprising. The Cubs finished 64-90 in 1961 and bottomed out at 59-103 in 1962. Only the slapstick, expansion New York Mets prevented the Cubs from finishing in last place in ’62.
The Cubs used the college of coaches for two seasons—1961 and 1962—before Wrigley learned his lesson, sort of.
Wrigley named Bob Kennedy, a college of coaches member, as “permanent” head coach for 1963 and ’64, and Kennedy posted an 82-80 record in 1963 before sinking back to 76-86 a year later. I use permanent in quotes because Kennedy was never formally hired as manager, per se.
But even with the “promotion,” Kennedy wasn’t sure how much authority he could really wield, because Wrigley never gave him the title of manager.
The college of coaches was a disaster. Player morale was low. Factions inevitably broke out. None of the head coaches were totally respected as the “man” because, well, they never were.
It’s not like the Cubs of the day were bereft of talent. There was Ernie Banks. There was Billy Williams. And Ron Santo. And others who could actually play the game. But with so much instability—remember, the college of coaches was designed to bring stability—around the team, even the talent that existed on the roster was overcome by the toxic environment.
Order was finally restored to the Cubs in November of 1965.
That’s when Wrigley, having regained his wits, hired Leo Durocher to officially “manage” the team.
Leo the Lip squashed the college of coaches experiment at his opening presser.
“I’m the manager!” Leo proclaimed, and he was right; Wrigley gave Durocher the official title without resistance.
The results on the field under Durocher didn’t change overnight; the Cubs finished in last place in 1966. But Leo started to win in 1967 (87-74) and in 1969, the Cubs led the new NL East for most of the summer before being overcome by the charging “Miracle Mets”. In 1970, the Cubs lost a hard-fought division race to the Pittsburgh Pirates in the season’s final week. The 1971 Cubs were solid contenders as well.
Not surprisingly, no other big league team has tried anything remotely like the college of coaches since the Cubs’ failed experiment.
Of course, no big league team has been as pocked with failure as the Cubs, either. Until this year.
For a roster of the college of coaches, click HERE.