The challenge facing new Cubs manager Craig Counsell
When the news leaked a week ago that the Cubs were making a change at manager, everybody around baseball was floored.
It came out of nowhere, as Craig Counsell was linked to the Mets or Guardians or many just assumed he would return to Milwaukee.
Yet Jed Hoyer and the Cubs swooped in at the 11th hour to secure arguably the top manager in the game.
If it felt sudden to anybody…know that Counsell is among that group.
It was a very fast-moving sequence of events. To put it in perspective — on Monday, Counsell donned the famous white Cubs jersey with blue pinstripes as he sat next to Hoyer at his introductory press conference.
Just two weeks prior, Counsell didn’t even have Hoyer’s phone number.
The Cubs president of baseball operations didn’t have the luxury of time on his side, and he did not talk with Counsell before Nov. 1 (the day after his contract with the Brewers expired). So a lifechanging move had to come quickly for both sides.
But throughout those conversations, Counsell became sure of what he had to do — “It is time to be a Cub,” he said in a soon-to-be-famous one-liner at the press conference.
Craig Counsell knows that it’s different here. pic.twitter.com/0PqR8xrWd5— Marquee Sports Network (@WatchMarquee) November 13, 2023
And now that he is officially a Cub, Counsell knows what needs to come next.
After spending the last 17 years with the Brewers as a player, front office executive and then manager, Counsell has to start over.
“Just the speed at which this happened and 17 years of relationships, truthfully that hits you really hard,” Counsell said. “The Brewers have meant a lot to me. I have great relationships there. [Those] are the relationships that I’m going to try with all of me to build in Chicago.
“They’re what’s most important in this game. The connection to the people is what makes this thing go. It’s the connection to the staff. It’s the connection to the players. It’s the connection to the fans.
“That is the challenge I have ahead of me. It’s a big one. It takes time but it’s the one I have to get right.”
Counsell admitted that he has not spent a ton of time yet talking to current Cubs players or staffers. He doesn’t yet know what he is going to do about the rest of the coaching staff, pointing out that he wanted to go slow with the process to ensure he gets it right.
Most of the last week has been about reflection and Counsell mentally making that transition from a place he’s called home for 17 years to an in-division rival.
Counsell already did a lot of that mental work over the past couple of years, understanding that he was in search of a new challenge.
“As you go through this process, when you’re just trying to figure out life, really, there’s self-reflection and you’re kinda trying to figure out what to do,” Counsell said. “And I think at some point over a pretty long timespan, I just thought that a new challenge was where I had to push myself.
“Really, it’s about growth, man. It’s about trying to push yourself to a place that you’re not at right now. That’s scary. I’m sitting up here, I’m a little bit scared. I’m sitting up here, you’re a little bit uncomfortable.
“But that’s how you get to a better place. That’s how you push yourself as a person to a better place. I think that’s how you create new relationships that are just more impactful. Through this process, that has already happened. That’s another thing that tells you this is right.”
Counsell doesn’t have the luxury of taking too much time on all these decisions, however. The calendar is an indicator that he will have to move relatively quickly on making coaching staff decisions.
As the Cubs look to build out a roster to contend for the playoffs in 2024, potential free agents will want to know what coaches they will be working with.
Yet Counsell isn’t letting that natural timeline rush an important process in forming new relationships with those in the Cubs organization.
“I really slowly started this,” he said. “And frankly, need to pick up the pace. But because this has been fast for me, I need to go slow right now just to make sure I get things right.
“So that will pick up here as we go. Those are important conversations and I want to make sure I get them right. There is a coaching staff that we’ve got to make decisions on and those are important decisions. But at this point, for me right now, it’s important to go a little bit slower.”
As for the pressure and expectations, Counsell welcomes it. He is now the highest-paid manager in the game and taking over for one of the most historic and popular franchises in the game.
“There’s pressure in this job, man,” Counsell said. “There should be and I accept that and welcome it.”