CHICAGO -- One took over a storied Chicago franchise at age 36, the other at 37. One helped end nearly a half-century of futility while the other is starting work on a team that hasn’t won in more than 100 years.
Those are just some of the similarities between Chicago Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman and Theo Epstein, the new President of the Chicago Cubs.
Bowman has been where Epstein and his lieutenants are now.
“Fortunately for him he’s come from a big market,” Bowman said recently to ESPNChicago.com “He had a lot of scrutiny there. The one thing is the people from Chicago, the media and the fans are passionate. It’s something that’s exciting to be part of, a sports team in Chicago.”
Bowman knows the form that passion can take. He was part of the organization when the Hawks were losing a lot of games, drawing few fans and off basically an afterthought in the sports landscape of Chicago. But he was also part of the turnaround, which resulted in a Stanley Cup championship in 2010, the first for the franchise in 49 years, and over 150 consecutive sell-outs.
“When I looked at it from the Blackhawks perspective you can’t change what’s happened,” Bowman said of the years of futility. “If you let that get into your mindset at all, all it does is distract you. You have to look forward. We talked internally a lot about that. You have to learn from the things that have happened even within a season and move on.
“You can’t be focusing on ‘gee, its been so many years since we won.’ So much has happened you were never a part of, of that whole history. It becomes a distraction if you focus on it.”
Epstein might heed those words. He’s bound to hear about curses, the years of losing and ‘Cubbie Occurrences.’ Bowman says to tune it all out and focus on the future. The head-start Epstein has is he’s done it already in Boston.
“You have a long term plan but you want to see improvement in the short term,” Bowman said. “There is no shortcut to success and you want to have sustained success. Even though there may be certain things which could give you immediate results but wouldn’t be conducive to sustained success, you have to be able to balance that.”
It might be Epstein’s hardest task. There could be an urge -- if it's even possible -- to “buy” a championship and get the century old monkey off the Cubs’ back, but there is no guarantee of it working and then the Cubs are right back where they are now.
Bowman says the key is the people around you.
“That’s the most important thing I’ve tried to do,” he said. “I learned that from [former Cubs’ and current Hawk’ President] John McDonough and my dad kind of said the same thing years ago.
“Knowing what you don’t know is probably the most important thing. Identify what your strengths are and fill-in around that, with people that are really good in their given areas.”
Epstein seems to have done that already, hiring general manager Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod to head his scouting department.
As for being a young executive, Bowman says results matter, not age.
“I don’t know if you can focus on it that way,” Bowman stated. “Ultimately your success is going to win people over. I don’t get caught up trying to please people. Winning is the easiest way to win people over. If you cater to them it’s almost like a mirage. You may get their favor for period of time but at the end of the day you have to get results. So may as well focus on what matters. Team success.”
Bowman learned that being in charge doesn’t mean having to do everything, hence hiring good people around you.
“Typically people that succeed realize they don’t have to do everything myself,” Bowman said. “Its still a skill to manage those people. You have to orchestrate it but you need those people. I’m sure Theo knows that.”
Media-wise Bowman thought Epstein might have it easier than some other markets, maybe even Boston.
“The media here is very fair,” he said. “There are markets in the U.S. that are unfair. I don’t see it here [Chicago]. The media here can give you a hard time but at the end of the day they understand the passion of the fan base they are catering too. There is going to moments for sure you scratch your head sometimes but in general it’s a good place to work.”
And as for the passion of the fans, it can cut both ways.
“When you’re struggling you can see the pain,” Bowman said. “When you have success you can see the people care.”
Bowman admires Epstein for what he’s accomplished. In fact, the Hawks have tried to employ some of the ‘Moneyball’ tactics -- as they relates to hockey -- Epstein helped perfect.
“I haven’t had a chance to meet Theo yet but I’m looking forward to that actually,” Bowman said. “He seems like a really bright guy and I think I could probably learn some things from him.”