- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 15, 2002

DETROIT Scotty Bowman had his skates handy this time, not like a few years back when he had to look for them so he could take a victory lap with his Detroit Red Wings.

Sly like a fox, that Bowman. Like a child with a secret he would share only with a close friend, he darted around the ice Thursday night after winning his record ninth Stanley Cup, whispering little things into certain players' ears, then his general manager, then the team owner. Each time he skated away wearing a little grin that got just a tad larger each time and you could see his mood starting to get giddy.

"Hah, I know something they don't know and it's driving 'em crazy," he might have been thinking, and it would have been just like him.

Earlier in the day, during a routine media briefing after the Wings' morning skate, Bowman danced around questions on his future. He said he had two years left on his contract, maybe more, but that would depend on what happens meaning an anticipated work stoppage in 2004. He gave no indication, none, that he was contemplating retirement.

But that would have been hard to tell under the best circumstances because Bowman is at his best leaving audiences befuddled, never telling them too much. And lately, he was becoming hard to understand, speaking in confusing bits of phrases, almost deliberately surrounding the subject in a fog.

As it turned out, William Scott Bowman, 68, retired from coaching Thursday night. He has done this before. He did not rule out unretiring but if he does, one thing is certain: He will return to hockey because he owns it.

If Bowman is serious this time, and he appeared to be, the sport has lost a mystical leader. He is a man who won at every one of his five NHL stops, collecting nine Cups as a coach and another as a front office executive. He won because he got into other coaches' heads, filled other teams with fear of what he might engineer. He won because he always had an advantage or made you believe he had one.

And he won because he assembled the best talent he could to play for him. He controlled his teams by micromanaging the one thing that he could control that every player desperately wanted: ice time. Play by Bowman's rules and produce and you got plenty of it; others warmed the pines. He ran his teams with ruthless efficiency, and those who stood in his way soon felt his wrath and earned scorn in the media, tipped by Bowman.

He will be remembered for the way he appeared in Joe Louis Arena on Thursday night as a man who didn't look his age, stopping to shake every hand he could reach, with a smile and chuckle for one and all. That is because time erases most unpleasantness, such as Bowman's fiery temper, his paranoia, his dislike and mistrust of the media in general except when he could put it to use.

Forgotten will be facts like $75,000 in fines against Detroit this spring for his refusal to follow league media guidelines; forgotten also will be the $10,000 fine levied against Bowman for roughing up a reporter a few weeks back.

He will be remembered as a man who operated under his own set of rules and when they weren't good enough for whomever his boss was at the time, he walked. There was a reason he worked for five teams and good as he was and he was very good four of them chose not to accept his dictatorial methods. Coaches are judged by their records, win or tie, but that never seemed enough for Bowman. He had to have more, do more.

Bowman will be remembered for the record book, which he owns. His idol and early mentor was Toe Blake, the legendary Montreal coach. On Tuesday night, he passed Blake in number of victories in the finals. On Thursday night he passed Blake in number of coaching Cups won.

He won 1,244 games, lost 583 and tied 314 during the regular season. To give those figures a little perspective, retired New York Islanders coach Al Arbour is in second place at 781-577-248, and nobody is close to him. Bowman was 223-130 in the playoffs, and the prospect of anybody catching him is highly unlikely.

Where will history place him? At the top in his sport, without question. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1991 and won four Cups after that. Matched against others, he probably would be rated ahead of Boston Celtics master Red Auerbach if for no other reason than Auerbach won his nine NBA titles with the same team while Bowman has won with three teams. That would put Phil Jackson of Chicago and Los Angeles in the same category with Bowman, producer of nine titles, the rings coming with different teams.

Others have tried to be Scotty Bowman, running teams like a tyrant, but only Bowman seemed to have the secret of how to make it work, how to get people to hate you and play their guts out for you at the same time. There may never be another one like him.

"It's time," he told Mike Ilitch, the Red Wings owner. "Now it's time to enjoy what other people enjoy."

Oh, yes, Bowman said he was aware there was a coaching vacancy in Washington.


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