Today, fifty-nine years ago, the Chicago Cubs announced the club would not have one coach for the upcoming season. Instead, the team would have eight of which each would serve as a head coach during a part of the season.
This college of coaches was installed after another disappointing season in which the Cubs finished in seventh place, thirty-five games out of first place. The college of coaches would contain the following members: El Tappe, Charlie Grimm, Goldie Holt, Bobby Adams, Harry Craft, Verlon Walker, Ripper Collins, and Vedie Himsl.
After the fourteenth finish in the cellar of the National League, Cubs owner P.K. Wrigley asked backup catcher and coach El Tappe for his input for a successor of Lou Boudreau, the previous manager of the Cubs. Tappe believed that if the coaches remained the same during inevitable managerial changes, the franchise would still have some consistency. Wrigley liked the idea and so it happened.
The idea did not pan out as chaos ruled in the Cubs’ dugout. According to relief pitcher Don Elston, the other coaches didn’t bother to help the “head coach”, leaving whoever was in charge to fend for himself.
After two seasons the experiment was over, though not officially. For the 1963 season, Wrigley appointed Bob Kennedy as the single head coach of the college for two seasons. The move would bring more stability to the team and led to a winning season in 1963, the Cubs’ first since 1946. But in the following season, the Cubs went back to their losing ways as they finished with a 76-86 record in eighth place.
In June 1965, Kennedy was moved to the front office and replaced by Lou Klein. In previous years, the college of coaches saw several changes. Klein wasn’t an original member. But Klein could not stop the Cubs from losing so after the season, Wrigley replaced him by street smart Leo “the Lip” Durocher, who had quite some experience as a manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers and crosstown rival New York Giants. In a press conference, Durocher officially announced the end of the college of coaches experiment.
Until today, the college of coaches experiment is ridiculed. Even though the Cubs had some very talented players on their roster, Ron Santo, Billy Williams, and Ernie Banks to name a few, the team never finished higher than seventh (except for that one winning season in 1963) during the experiment.