- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 11, 2002

Let us discuss for a minute one William Scott Bowman, a man who has been coaching since 1967 and will be again this afternoon in the NHL playoffs. Bowman has more wins than most coaches have coached games.

Yet Bowman is coaching his fifth team, Detroit. If he is that good, the best numbers-wise in the history of the league, why didn't some team hold onto him and ride his coattails to the Stanley Cup finals year after year?

Because at some point, teams stop listening to their coach, and that includes all sports. It happens to every coach sooner or later. Players tune out the things he has to say because they've heard it before. They know more than the boss so why bother listening? Scotty Bowman has won more playoff games 214 and counting than almost any player has ever played, but sooner or later even his message falls on deaf ears.

Ron Wilson was fired by the Washington Capitals yesterday. It was a stunning move but not surprising. And the fact he has been fired from the only two head coaching jobs he has ever held (Anaheim being the other) does not make him a bad coach.

On the contrary, Ron Wilson is a very good coach, possibly the best the Caps have ever had. He is good at analyzing what the opposition can and can't do, good at trying to match his own people against them. He is reasonably quick at adjusting to moves the opposition makes, something many coaches have trouble doing.

He is also very good at quickly, very quickly, determining which of his players have come to work on any given night and which ones are along for the ride. The players play, the riders sit and watch and fume.

But Wilson's time had come. He wasn't any lesser a coach as far as X's and O's are concerned but the players had stopped listening. His message was always the same defense, defense and more defense and finally nobody was tuning in. It was obvious in the deplorable first half of the season right up to March 17 in Denver, when the team went out to dinner as a group and the outing dragged on hour after hour until the players came to a conclusion. They would pay their coach lip service but they would try to salvage the season on their own, which they almost did. They went 8-2-1 down the stretch; trade any one inexcusable loss earlier in the campaign for a win, and the club was in the playoffs.

Back to Bowman. Everybody in the business knows him, everybody claims to like him but in truth, he is despised by many of the people who have worked with or for him. He is ruthless; he is secretive; he doesn't communicate well and when he does, he is usually ripping a piece of somebody's hide off or letting you know that he is the master of all knowledge and you don't know enough to come in out of the rain. In short, he is not Mr. Nice Guy.

Ron Wilson is like Bowman in some of those ways, and his players despised him for that. They felt they weren't treated with the respect any person is due, never mind a hockey player. Wilson, privately, felt some of them were impersonating hockey players and didn't deserve much respect. There are arguments both ways on that issue. In short, Wilson in many ways was no Mr. Nice Guy, either.

The scenario that was played out yesterday actually started a year ago after the Caps were eliminated by a very beatable Pittsburgh team in the playoffs. In short, the Caps had stopped playing, at least with the intensity that is needed in postseason, and it was obvious. Player after player went through postseason meetings with management and the impression they left was unmistakable. It was time for a change.

General manager George McPhee, to his credit, relayed those feelings and changes were promised. Wilson was easier to deal with, easier to play for this season than he had been but the damage was done. The gulf between the coach and players was too big to be patched together. They stopped playing again until they were ready, and then it was too late.

Ron Wilson is too good a hockey man not to be back, and probably this coming season if he wants. There are openings with the New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers and don't hold your breath Anaheim. He will land on his feet and do a good job, just like he did here.

And when he gets canned again, it won't be because he was technically a bad coach, it will be because his people skills let him down again.



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