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Cubs 2K12: Job candidates will be asked to manage simulated game

Theo Epste(center) new Cubs execs Jed Hoyer (right) JasMcLeod will put prospective managers through their paces daylong series simulations. |

Theo Epstein (center) and new Cubs execs Jed Hoyer (right) and Jason McLeod will put prospective managers through their paces in a daylong series of simulations. | Charles Rex Arbogast~AP

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Updated: December 6, 2011 8:22AM

How do you determine the right manager who will buy into — and help lead — a new direction for a franchise?

Theo Epstein faced that question as a 29-year-old, first-time general manager eight years ago, and the solution he helped develop in Boston back then is the one the Cubs’ new team president and his inner circle will use to shape the Cubs’ on-field operations for what they hope is the next decade or more.

And it represents anything but the conventional sit-down, Q-and-A interview format that starts with an anxious handshake and ends with an often head-scratching base of information to work with.

“We just conduct a sit-down interview, we’re just going to end up with a candidate who
interviews the best,’’ said
Epstein, who started with that dilemma and came up with a daylong, interactive interview process that debuts on the North Side on Friday when Pete Mackanin auditions to replace Mike Quade as the Cubs’ manager.

Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and their staff still use the conventional interview as a tool. But that’s just the beginning of a process that more resembles a prospective pilot stepping into a flight simulator.

“We created some sort of game simulations where we handed them statistics and lineup cards and things like a history of bullpen usage,’’ Epstein said, “and we had them watch key
innings of the game and walked them along in the game, and then we’d stop and try to create real-life situations.’’

Close game, late innings, scoring threat. Change pitchers? Which one, based on bullpen availability or guys left on the
opponents’ bench?

“We’d try to create some
intensity, so we got right in his face and asked for an answer quickly,’’ Epstein said. “We weren’t looking so much at what the [candidate] said in terms of the strategy he was employing, but what pieces of information he would use, what his thought process would be in trying to make a decision.

“It was helpful to see how the candidates make decisions and also helpful to see how they perform under pressure.’’

The process also includes more involved questions that bring in evaluation and analysis.

“Some questions we ask for immediate answers; some we give them half an hour to kind of compose their thoughts,’’
Epstein said, “just trying to simulate different things a manager has to do over the course of a day.’’

At the end of the grueling day, the candidate then faces the
media — wonder why the new regime is so open with access to the candidates? — to give
Epstein and the staff a real-world view of how he handles the big-market media contingent.

Epstein said he didn’t want to boast with such a small sample size, but the process produced a two-time World Series champion manager in Boston (Terry Francona), and the runner-up was Joe Maddon, who is considered a strong candidate to win his second American League ­Manager of the Year award in four ­seasons.

Epstein said nobody balked at the process so far “because I think it was fun. I think everyone enjoyed it. And I don’t think anyone could really argue with the concept.’’

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