So Far, So Good Detroit's Dave Lewis has made a seamless transition replacing storied Scotty Bowman behind the bench

December 30, 2002

This is the difference between Detroit Red Wings coach Dave Lewis
and his predecessor, Scotty Bowman: On Dec. 10, Lewis read 'Twas
the Night Before Christmas on stage at the city's renowned Fox
Theatre. If Bowman had been invited, he would have read 'Twas the
Night Before Christmas, but he also would have commented on Saint
Nick's brutal travel schedule and wondered if Donder and Blitzen
shouldn't be moved to the first line, ahead of Dasher and Dancer.

The record of the defending Stanley Cup champions resides in its
usual high-end neighborhood--the Red Wings were 18-8-6-1 through
Saturday, tied for third in the Western Conference. But the
ambience around the team is different, and not merely because the
dressing room was redone in cherry wood over the summer and the
players now have a lounge so well-appointed they should be
grabbing a postgame port instead of a beer. Bowman, the NHL's
alltime best coach, who won a record nine Stanley Cups behind the
bench before retiring last June, liked to foment a creative
tension that kept his teams on edge. "Chaos isn't the right word,
but there was more going on with Scotty," says Lewis, who before
taking over had been an assistant in Detroit since his retirement
as a player in 1987. "He understood that when you get in a game,
things are chaotic, and he'd throw things out there and let the
players handle it."

Lewis, whose style was influenced by his first NHL coach, the
even-keeled Al Arbour of the New York Islanders, is far less
opaque than Bowman, although his moves also occasionally need
some explaining. Before a game against the New Jersey Devils on
Nov. 27, Lewis brought in 20 large carrots and placed one in each
of the players' lockers. The message confused defenseman Mathieu
Dandenault ("He wants us to eat them," he guessed, "because
carrots are good for our eyes, and if our eyes are better, we'll
make better plays") and winger Darren McCarty ("Horses eat
carrots, and the Wings are horses," McCarty speculated), but
veteran forwards Brendan Shanahan and Brett Hull doped it out.
Lewis was dangling a carrot: If Detroit beat the Devils, he would
cancel practice the following day, which was Thanksgiving. The
Red Wings won 3-2.

Lewis is a tall man with a droopy moustache and an unabashedly
expressive side, one that prompted him to write a
poem--Sixteen--about the will needed to win a Cup. His was the
shoulder Wings players cried on during Bowman's nine-year tenure.
The issue general manager Ken Holland pondered before naming
Lewis head coach was whether Lewis could change from being a
nurturer to an authority figure, or as one member of the
organization put it, "whether a mother could become a father."

"He's still a caring guy," Shanahan says about Lewis, "and he
can't be someone he's not, but there has to be some evolving to
go from assistant to head coach. There has to be some
intimidation with being a head coach. Whether he's an
intimidating guy or not, the office he holds has to be
intimidating. No matter what you think of George W., you have to
be impressed with meeting the president." So far this season
Lewis has not been timid, twice yanking star netminder Curtis

Lewis has had the benefit of continuity. He has a veteran,
self-motivated team that can soldier through injuries--captain
Steve Yzerman has yet to play this season after undergoing knee
surgery in August--and a superb associate coach in Barry Smith, a
Bowman acolyte and one of the NHL's top X's and O's men. Lewis
also uses the same breakout patterns and forecheck systems as the
club did last season. He continues to juggle personnel and still
seeks the delicate balance between rolling four lines and having
his best players on the ice longer, but the coaching transition
has been almost seamless. Of course, in Hockeytown, coaches are
judged by their record in June, not on the night before

COLOR PHOTO: LOU CAPOZZOLA The replacement Lewis (inset, right), who worked under Bowman for nine years, has kept Hull (17) and the Wings on top. COLOR PHOTO: PAUL SANCYA/AP [See caption above]

Following a Legend

Here's how five other notable coaches fared the season after
replacing a legend.

Retiring Coach (Final Season) Record New Coach Record

Bear Bryant('81) 9-2-1 Ray Perkins 8-4

John Wooden ('74--75) 28-3 Gene Bartow 28-4

Vince Lombardi ('67) 9-4-1 Phil Bengtson 6-7-1

Red Auerbach ('65--66) 54-26 Bill Russell 60-21

Connie Mack ('50) 52-102 Jimmy Dykes 70-84

Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)