That's Scotty! Now that Detroit's Scotty Bowman has taken hold of his eighth Stanley Cup, let us, in turn,embrace him for what he is: the best coach ever in a major pro sport

June 28, 1998

To understand Scotty, you have to know one thing: What human
nature dictates, he does the opposite."
--Rejean Houle, Montreal Canadiens general manager and a former
player under Bowman

On the night he tied Toe Blake's coaching record by winning his
eighth Stanley Cup, on the night the NHL record book was getting
more attention than any tome Oprah ever recommended, the man who
defies human nature looked better prepared for an audit than for
immortality. While the Detroit Red Wings poured champagne, their
coach, Scotty Bowman, was poring over ice times. The NHL allows
no one, not even Bowman, to win more than one Stanley Cup a
year, but there he was on June 16, his Red Wings having just
closed out the Washington Capitals 4-1 in Game 4 for their
second straight Stanley Cup sweep, with no game to coach until
October, or maybe ever, worrying about the minutes on the stat
sheet instead of the vintage of the bubbly. This probably should
have been more emotional than any of his other Cup victories,
considering that wheelchair-bound Detroit defenseman Vladimir
Konstantinov had risen and acknowledged the cheers of the
Washington crowd early in the third period, but Bowman had
hoisted the Cup as dispassionately as a man signaling for a
refill of coffee.

That's Scotty. Which is what everyone who knows him says. There
are probably 2,123 anecdotes about Bowman, one for every game he
has coached, and that phrase will conclude many of them. "You
had a group of players who might not all get along, who might
not be friends," says Steve Shutt, a Hall of Fame left wing and
a favorite Bowman whipping boy on five Bowman-coached,
Cup-winning Canadiens teams of the 1970s, "but the one thing we
had in common was a Scotty story." And so it is that Edmonton
Oilers assistant general manager Doug Risebrough, who played for
Bowman for five seasons with the Montreal, utters the phrase
after he recounts how Bowman shifted him from center to left
wing for the last 20 games of one season, berated him for his
play on the wing and then, without a word, started him at center
in the playoffs because "he wanted to know if my pissed-off
[attitude] would turn into quit or into fight-back." Similarly,
Red Wings associate coach Dave Lewis says it after describing
how Bowman, who has coached the Red Wings for five seasons, will
do something unfathomable like look at one end of the ice while
a three-on-one is developing at the other end. That's Scotty.

For those who know Bowman, or think they do, That's Scotty is an
all-purpose explanation for the otherwise inexplicable, and a
phrase as final as Amen. Playing for Bowman is an act of faith.
"After warmups for Game 6 against Dallas [in this year's
semifinals], he decided to change his lines," Detroit left wing
Brendan Shanahan says. "With any other coach, you'd think, What
the hell is he doing? This could cost us the series. But I don't
think anybody in the room popped his head up. He pulled me and
Stevie [Yzerman, the Red Wings captain] into his office and
asked us if it would be O.K. if he played me on the right and
Stevie on the left with Sergei [Fedorov]. I said, 'Sure.' I
hadn't played right wing in about nine years, but I was thinking
that if Scotty thinks it's a good idea, I think it's a good
idea." Detroit won that game 2-0 to close out Dallas.

This is also Scotty: the best coach or manager of a team in any
of North America's major pro sports. Ever. In proclaiming Bowman
the best, we compared not only apples to apples, like Bowman to
Blake, but also apples to plums like Bowman to Red Auerbach and
Joe McCarthy, and apples to peaches like Bowman to George Halas
and Paul Brown (boxes, right and page 71). But before we pepper
you with the numbers, you must accept two premises: 1) winning
championships with multiple teams as Bowman has is more
difficult than winning them with a single franchise as most
other storied coaches and managers have done, and 2) coaching a
team has never been more complex or perilous than it is today.
The financial stakes are higher. The pressure is greater. The
seasons are longer. In 30-team leagues in a 500-channel
universe, the job of guiding $6 million-a-year players for itchy
owners who have one eye on the standings and the other on a
stadium referendum is more taxing than the task faced by (to
mention two baseball skippers of yore) either the gruff John
McGraw or the lovable Casey Stengel. Winning championships in
the modern era is the ultimate tiebreaker.

Tom Landry never could adapt. Vince Lombardi never had to, and
neither did Blake. Among the legends--and SI examined the most
accomplished coaches in each sport--only Phil Jackson, Pat Riley
and Glen Sather have won as many as four championships in the
past 15 years. What's more, no one has duplicated Bowman's
successes in so many cities and with so many generations of
athletes.

The bedouin Bowman has won Cups with three clubs (the Pittsburgh
Penguins as well as Montreal and Detroit); reached the finals
three times with another, the St. Louis Blues; and holds the
record for most playoff wins in every one of his stops (the
above four plus the Buffalo Sabres). He has won with Flying
Frenchmen and the Russian Revolution. He has won with offense in
Pittsburgh. He has won with defense in Montreal and Detroit. He
has won championships over a 25-year span, and only Papa Bear
Halas, whose first NFL title came in 1921 and last in '63, won
them over a longer period of time. "He started coaching guys who
had summer jobs and crew cuts, and now he's coaching guys with
Ferraris, earrings, blond streaks and agents," Shanahan says. "I
read something like that about Don Shula once. I immediately
thought of Scotty." The difference: Bowman has won eight titles
in 26 years; Shula won two in 33.

Choose your measuring stick. Regular season: In 26 seasons
Bowman has had one losing record, 3-7-2 in Buffalo in 1986-87.
(He was also the Sabres' general manager and handed over the
coaching to Craig Ramsay.) Among coaches with more than 10 years
of service, only McCarthy (24-0), Riley (16-0), Steve O'Neill
(14-0), Marty Schottenheimer (14-0), Blake (13-0), and George
Allen (12-0) never finished below .500 during a season. Bowman's
.658 regular-season winning percentage, however, is superior to
McCarthy's .614. Bowman is also the only NHL coach to win 60
games in a regular season, and he did it twice, with Montreal in
1976-77 and Detroit in 1995-96.

Playoffs (10 or more postseason appearances): Bowman's .636
winning percentage trails only those of Sather (.706), Blake
(.689) and Chuck Noll (.667).

Championships: Auerbach surpasses Bowman with nine and Blake
ties him with eight, but all except the last of Blake's Cups
required winning only two series (compared to three or four in
the case of each of Bowman's Cups). Similarly, Auerbach's Boston
Celtics didn't have to keep peeling back layer after playoff
layer to prevail. Indeed, for all his championships, Auerbach
won 99 postseason games in 20 years, barely half of the 194 that
Bowman has won in his 26 years. Bowman's eight championships
equal the combined totals of Walter Alston, John McGraw and
Billy Martin in baseball; of Lombardi and Bill Walsh in
football; of Riley, Red Holzman and Chuck Daly in basketball;
and of Al Arbour, Jack Adams and Mike Keenan in hockey. Or if
you prefer the parlor version of the game, Bowman one-ups the
Browns (Paul and Larry) 8-7; grinds up the Chucks (Daly, Noll
and Knox) 8-6; and downs the Beers (Bud Grant and Miller
Huggins) 8-3.

"When Scotty left Montreal [after winning the 1979 Cup], the
feeling was that we'd show him," says Risebrough, who would play
for the Canadiens for three years after that. "One third through
the next season, when Boomer [Bernie Geoffrion, Bowman's
replacement] was gone, I guess Scotty had showed us. I always
believed he was the best coach for us because he would push and
push and command the attention of those great teams. Everyone
says, yeah, but look at all the talent he had. Of course, he had
talent himself."

Bowman was a prodigy. He was coaching 20-year-olds in junior B
when he was 21. He was the coach of a major junior team at 25.
He ultimately became the Canadiens' coach under general manager
Sam Pollock, a brilliant sports administrator--Pollock is now
CEO of the Toronto Blue Jays--from whom Bowman learned about
people and the NHL. Pollock used to say he would take a lot of
grief from a .300 hitter and none from a .200 hitter. "One of
the things about Bowman," says Dallas general manager Bob
Gainey, another of his players from Montreal, "is he doesn't get
complaints, at least from the players who matter."

In Detroit, Bowman got rid of a .200 hitter in forward Shawn
Burr, who griped about his lack of ice time, but he has always
coexisted with his stars. He came close to trading Yzerman to
the Ottawa Senators in 1995-96, and he befuddled the sensitive
Fedorov, a former Hart Trophy winner, by trying him on defense
in 1996-97, but he never lost them. When Bowman abandoned
Detroit's fire-wagon style of hockey in favor of the left wing
lock in '95, Yzerman's unwavering support made the new system
work. The Wings, playing defense first, now have reached three
Cup finals in four years.

"His adaptability is amazing, and he can try anything he
pleases," says Shutt. There's nothing worse in coaching than
worrying about what the press or the fans are going to say.
Other coaches don't have the credibility to try stuff. Scotty
has the latitude."

Seeing as how Bowman has won 47 more postseason games than
anyone else in pro sports history, who can say no to him? For
example, instead of playing his most rugged defenseman,
Konstantinov, against Eric Lindros's line in the 1997 finals
against the Philadelphia Flyers, Bowman not only mocked
convention by using the slick pair of Nicklas Lidstrom and Larry
Murphy, but he also altered the laws of the universe by
instructing them to play the stick and puck instead of the body.
"Basically, we were asking them to unlearn everything they knew,
to abandon the most basic concept of defense," Lewis, Detroit's
associate coach, says. "If a guy's on his butt, he can't score a
goal, right? But we had looked at the tapes of Philly's previous
series, against the [New York] Rangers, and the big, strong
Rangers defensemen couldn't move Lindros and [John] LeClair, who
were either scoring or getting glorious opportunities. So we
changed things, and reinforced the change with a videotape after
Game 1 to prove it was working. Only because Scotty is who he is
and had done what he'd done could we try it."

Human nature dictates that with Detroit primed for a run at a
third straight Cup, Bowman, 64, will return to try to break
Blake's record, which means, if theory holds, he will exercise
his option to step down from behind the bench and become a Red
Wings consultant. He will decide within a month. As the car
carrying Bowman wended its way through the parade route during
the victory celebration in downtown Detroit last Thursday and
pockets of the 1.2 million throng were chanting, "One more
year!" his younger brother, Jack, a scout for the Sabres, was
undergoing quadruple-bypass surgery. (He passed away early
Monday morning.) Scotty's sense of his own mortality probably
won't affect his decision--"No, I have a pretty big physical
every year in training camp," he said later that afternoon--but
the opinion of the other passenger in the car, his wife, Suella,
might. As "One more year!" thundered down, she covered her ears,
and not only because the noise was deafening. If she has her
way, Bowman will finally be free to ponder things other than
figures on a stat sheet and the four buttons on the suits of his
more dashing competitors.

Bowman, who defies fashion as much as he does human nature, grew
agitated only once during Game 4 against Washington, when the
valiant Konstantinov waved to the crowd. The Wings had a
three-goal lead, but there were 17 minutes left and Bowman was
worried that they would lose their concentration. "Players don't
think like a coach," he says. "They don't think, What if they
score now? How do we get it back? Do we have Vladi stand up
again? What if Lidstrom gets injured?"

That's Scotty.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID E. KLUTHO GOAL OFF OLAF The Red Wings' Doug Brown deftly slips the puck behind Capitals goalie Olaf Kolzig to score Detroit's last goal in its second Stanley Cup finals sweep in two years (page 64). [Leading Off] COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY RALF-FINN HESTOFT/SABA [Scotty Bowman with Stanley Cup trophy] COLOR PHOTO: DICK RAPHAEL [Scotty Bowman] COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO [Slava Fetisov and Vladimir Konstantinov with Stanley Cup trophy]

Consistent Winners

Here's how Bowman (left, with Montreal in 1977) ranks among the
10 coaches and managers in the major North American team sports
who have the highest percentage of .500-or-better seasons.

NAME, SPORT SEASONS* .500-OR-BETTER SEASONS %

Joe McCarthy, baseball 24 24 1.000
Pat Riley, NBA 16 16 1.000
Steve O'Neill, baseball 14 14 1.000
Toe Blake, NHL 13 13 1.000
George Allen, NFL 12 12 1.000
Marty Schottenheimer, NFL 12 12 1.000
Vince Lombardi, NFL 10 10 1.000
John Madden, NFL 10 10 1.000
Scotty Bowman, NHL 26 25 .961
Red Auerbach, NBA 20 19 .950

*Minimum 10 seasons coached or managed

The Best of the Best

When it comes to regular-season and playoff records and team
championships (Slava Fetisov, above left, and Konstantinov
celebrate Detroit's Cup victory), Bowman stacks up favorably
with some of the most illustrious coaches and managers of all
time.

NAME, SPORT REGULAR WINNING% POSTSEASON WINNING% CHAMPIONSHIPS
SEASON*

Red Auerbach, 938-479 .662 99-69 .589 9
NBA
Toe Blake, 500-255-159 .634 82-37 .689 8
NHL
Scotty Bowman, 1,057-483-278 .658 194-111 .636 8
NHL
Paul Brown, 213-104-9 .667 9-8 .529 7
NFL**
George Halas, 313-148-31 .668 6-3 .667 5
NFL**
Vince Lombardi, 96-34-6 .728 9-1 .900 5
NFL
Joe McCarthy, 2,126-1,335 .614 30-13 .698 7
baseball
Pat Riley, 914-387 .703 147-90 .620 4
NBA
Don Shula, 328-156-6 .676 19-17 .528 2
NFL
Bill Walsh, 92-59-1 .609 10-4 .714 3
NFL

*Minimum 10 seasons coached or managed. **Includes seasons with
other pro football leagues.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)