Illustration by Kathryn Rathke
Illustration: Kathryn Rathke

We are coming off the most successful decade in the history of the franchise — what you could define as the golden era. But there’s kind of a cycle in the salary cap era, and you are only going to stay on top so long.

When I was with the Cubs and we lost in the National League Championship Series to the Marlins in 2003, I stayed in my seat in the ballpark for an hour or so. I needed to let it sink in. There were these three women who had Cubs hats on, earrings, buttons — all the accoutrements. One of them — she was probably in her 70s — came up and said, “Mr. McDonough, I want you to know that we love them even more.” And she walked away. It’s the one thing that really allowed me to come to grips with what happened.

After I came over to the Blackhawks in 2007, somebody, I think from the Cubs, described my management style as “a bulldozer on steroids.” I thought about it for a while and went, “Well, that’s not far off.” The toughest thing I’ve had to learn to do is step back and not jump in on everything. There are a lot of meetings I used to get invited to that I’m not anymore. I look at that as progress.

It’s important to hire people who are smarter than you.

I was a bad student every stop along the way: St. Juliana grammar school on the Northwest Side, Notre Dame College Prep in Niles, St. Mary’s University in Minnesota. I still have my transcript from Notre Dame. I was 311th out of 356. I kept it as a reminder that I was going to have to outwork everybody; I wasn’t coming from a position of strength. Later, I’d bump into people from high school at Wrigley Field who’d say, “I didn’t think you were the same guy.”

I was a horseshit athlete, but I was the captain of every team I was on — basketball, softball, baseball. I always liked to be the guy who orchestrated things.

My buddies and I would sit in the upper deck at Comiskey Park, and I’d wonder why there were 28,000 empty seats. I didn’t understand why somebody wasn’t doing something about that. I loved the business of sports, the science of it. When I graduated from college, I sent a letter to every team in the NBA, the NFL, the NHL, and Major League Baseball. I still have all of my rejection letters. Lee Stern at the Chicago Sting gave me my first break.

I tell my kids the most overrated thing is drinking and the most underrated thing is sleeping.

When I speak, the thing that warms up an audience faster than anything else is self-deprecation. Because it’s genuine and disarming. Lead with your flaws, and they’re going to embrace you.

I like people who give it to me straight. Rocky Wirtz and I are brutally honest with each other.

I’ve had to make some tough calls — really unpopular decisions on popular players. And fans are not shy about expressing their opinions. When I used to go to the gym, people would come up and call me names, use profanity. But you can’t respond. When you are in this business, you are fair game.

We were widely criticized when we invited Patrick Kane to training camp a few years ago. It was a painful decision because of the horrific accusation against him. But he wasn’t convicted, he wasn’t charged. And we had enough information from people — people who recognized what the consequences would be if they weren’t honest. It was one of the toughest, if not the toughest, press conferences I’ve been a part of. But we can’t jump into every situation saying, “This is what the general public wants and we have to appease them.” We have to do what we think is right. And if it’s not right, it’s my responsibility to take the blame.