Blackhawks release president, CEO John McDonough
John McDonough helped take the Blackhawks and their faithful fans on a thrill ride they will never forget.
But that ride -- one that included three truly memorable Stanley Cup championships -- had veered off path over the past few seasons.
So although it wasn't easy, team chairman Rocky Wirtz elected to release McDonough from his duties as President and CEO on Monday.
The COVID-19 crisis and the suspension of operations by the NHL gave Wirtz the opportunity to reassess the team's future "and to set a renewed positive direction for the organization."
A search will begin immediately to replace McDonough, who was hired in 2007 as President. In 2011, the role of CEO was added.
"Thirteen years ago, I recruited John to the Blackhawks because of his leadership, direction and vision," Wirtz said in a statement. "John brought all of that to the table and more. His contributions went well beyond leading the team to three Stanley Cup Championships.
"He rebuilt the front office and helped guide the organization toward a winning vision. As difficult as this is, we believe it was the right decision for the future of the organization and its fans."
Daniel Wirtz, 43, will serve as the team's interim president until a new one is named.
Rocky Wirtz said last month that general manager Stan Bowman's job was safe, but that certainly seems in question now. As do the jobs of coach Jeremy Colliton, executive vice president Jay Blunk, senior vice president of hockey operations Al MacIsaac, assistant general manager Norm Maciver and others.
"It's all on the table," a source said.
A request to interview Rocky Wirtz went unanswered, but here is part of the internal memo that went out to all Hawks employees: "Today, we stand in unprecedented times that require us to think very differently about our future. While we can reassure you all that there will be hockey again, no one knows what it will look like. We must take the opportunity today to re-imagine our future and to set a positive course to getting there."
It then closed by saying: "We want to reiterate our appreciation for all of you during these unsettled times. We recognize that change is difficult and there may be bumps on our road, but we will strive to navigate them with the health of the organization intact. We will make decisions today to ensure we are well positioned for great success in the future."
Have no doubt -- this decision sent shock waves throughout the organization.
After all, it was McDonough who turned around a franchise that could barely put fans in the stands during the mid-2000s when 300-level seats were going for $10 each.
Wirtz convinced McDonough to leave the Cubs in November 2007 and put him in charge of putting the Hawks back on the map.
McDonough did exactly that by completely changing the culture of a franchise that was called the worst in pro sports by ESPN in 2006. When he was hired, the Hawks didn't have a receptionist or a director of human resources.
"I asked to speak to the person that ran the business operation and the intern who was walking me around now had a tear in her eye when she knew that I wasn't really happy," McDonough said during a Q&A session with the Herald's Barry Rozner in 2016. "She said, 'Well, we do have somebody that runs the business operation, but he's on vacation.' ...
"I realized at that point that, 'OK. This is really going to be an enormous undertaking from Day One.'"
It was, but McDonough got right to work and before long, the Hawks:
• Had every home game on television.
• Rehired estranged announcer Pat Foley.
• Brought estranged stars Stan Mikita, Bobby Hull, Tony Esposito and others back into the fold.
Was it easy? Of course not. Sometimes egos were bruised and feelings were hurt.
But you're going to leave some burn marks when you're blazing a new trail.
"Sometimes people think we're the Camelot Blackhawks or the Stepford Blackhawks," McDonough told me during the Hawks' 2015 title run. "And it's not.
"There's elbows thrown and we don't agree. I need unvarnished opinions from people. ... I want people that are really independent thinkers that will challenge me because I'll certainly challenge them.
There's a lot at stake. We're not going to be measured in years. We're going to be measured in decades and decades and decades and decades of excellence.
"I mean, this is just the start."
But five years later, it's over for McDonough.
What happens next? We'll have to wait and see.