|Monday, June 17
Updated: June 18, 10:01 AM ET
Different styles, same results
By Wayne Drehs
DETROIT -- On the surface, they couldn't appear more different. Phil Jackson is tall. His designer suits, chic glasses and trendy soul patch scream Hollywood. Scotty Bowman is short. Somewhat round. And his conservative sport coat and neatly-pressed sweater vest say Duluth.
One is seen as a meditating fool, someone who burns sage and speaks of the Buffalo Indian to help motivate his players. He's called the Zen Master. The other is seen as old school, somebody who isn't friends with his players, who is calculatingly brilliant and yet curmudgeonly quirky. He's called Rain Man.
Despite the differences, Jackson and Bowman, the Zenmaster and Rainman, share one thing in common -- they are two of the greatest coaches the world of sports has ever seen.
"I wouldn't play for anyone else," Shaquille O'Neal said of Jackson.
"He's the type of guy you just shut up and trust," Brett Hull said of Bowman.
Thus, it was fitting in a way, that they both reached the pinnacle of their coaching careers within 24 hours of one another last week.
There was Jackson last Wednesday night, coaching the Los Angeles Lakers to a methodical disposal of the New Jersey Nets, giving his team a 4-0 sweep in the NBA Finals and himself a ninth coaching championship.
The next night, there was Bowman, with his trademark bold chin and piercing eyes, leading the Detroit Red Wings to a merciless victory over the Carolina Hurricanes, giving Bowman his ninth coaching championship.
Afterward, they both celebrated. Jackson by lighting a stogie. Bowman by announcing his retirement.
Two legends. Eighteen titles. One career. 24 hours.
While No. 9 tied Jackson with Hall of Fame coach Red Auerbach, it helped Bowman surpass his mentor, former Montreal Canadiens coach Toe Blake.
To put it into perspective: nine titles is more than Casey Stengel (7), Bear Bryant (6), Vince Lombardi (5) or Connie Mack (5) won. Even the combined totals of coaching legends Knute Rockne (3), Sparky Anderson (3) and Dean Smith (2) wouldn't measure up.
Jackson doesn't know much hockey and Bowman only a smidge about basketball, but they completely understand and respect one another. They are two coaches who more than appreciate each other's accomplishments.
"Scotty's equanimity during the game is terrific," Jackson said last week. "You know, his teams have a certain sense of discipline. I admire the way he keeps putting players in and sits his stars down and brings other stars off the bench."
When Bowman speaks of Jackson, he often tells of the time the two met in Chicago, when the Red Wings were visiting the Blackhawks. Chris Chelios, a former Blackhawk, introduced Jackson and Bowman. Quickly, the two coaching geniuses were at it.
"We were talking about players and when they get into slumps, what we try to do to change the tempo," Bowman recalled. "And the thing that stuck in my mind was, he said, 'it really comes down to the fact that if the players don't get it, me saying it isn't going to get it either.'
"Naturally, the coach can have a game plan and it has to be exercised and executed. But the players have to get it on their own. When they are struggling, they have to work their own way out of it. That's what stuck out to me."
It sounds good. But for Bowman and Jackson, two masters of motivation, two legends of the mind game, it's hard to believe coaching is that easy.
Especially when you consider that the two men, who both won their first titles in 1973 (Bowman as a coach and Jackson as a player) and are separated at birth by 12 years, are both Virgos. Jackson was born on Sept. 17, Bowman on Sept. 18. Virgos are characterized as flexible, yet practical. They're said to get a kick out of organization and anything that puts the analytical mind to use. They're perfectionists. And they operate best in a position in which they can help others.
So letting the players work their way out of it? Ha.
Mending a team
Yet that's what Bowman and Jackson have been able to do -- blend talent, whether high-priced, low-priced, old or young. They've done it in different ways: Bowman often frustrating and alienating his players with his various promotions, benchings and unexplained lineup changes, Jackson using mind games, movie clips and media challenges to reach his players.
In the 1990s, Bowman sold an offensive-minded Pittsburgh team, led by Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr and Ron Francis, on playing defense. When he came to Detroit, he threatened to trade Motor City god Steve Yzerman if he didn't start playing D. This past season, he put sharpshooter Brett Hull on the penalty kill and made Sergei Fedorov, one of the most offensively talented players in the game, a part-time defenseman.
The Wings had as many as nine future Hall of Famers on this year's roster. So did the Montreal Canadiens of the 1970s, winners of five Stanley Cups under Bowman. Yet not once was there a peep of a complaint out of either dressing room about playing time, coaching philosophy, anything. The reason? The man at the top.
"The thing that is the most amazing, that kind of gets lost because you get a little caught up in the names on the jerseys here, is how well they play as a team," Carolina coach Paul Maurice said. "Our goal this year was to play the best team game in the National Hockey League. We came one team short. And that group, with those players, to still get them to play the team game as well as they do, that's a gift. I mean, he's an amazing man."
Jackson's talents are just as impressive. He taught Michael Jordan, the self-centered, I-can-do-it-all egomaniac, how to trust his teammates.
He taught Kobe Bryant, the cerebral, introspective basketball prodigy, that the team could win games without him being tight with his teammates, but not championships.
And he taught the me-first Shaquille O'Neal to share the limelight with the younger, more impressionable Kobe, letting him be the best player in the league, while Shaq could be the best player on the team. It worked.
"Phil's been able to do it with a system that he believes in and he's been able to get players to play together," Bryant said. "To three-peat with three different teams, that's unbelievable."
The 1991-92 Pittburgh Penguins -- led by Lemieux -- so despised their head coach that they ironed out a deal with general manager Craig Patrick that Bowman would only coach on game days, not practices.
Fedorov, who played eight years for Bowman in Detroit, said the two barely spoke. But, he added, not knowing what his coach was thinking was a constant source of motivation.
"When you're doing your job, I don't think he is on your case and he's not pushing you that hard," Fedorov said. "He pretty much lays off and lets you do whatever you want. But when you step off that edge, he always tries to find a way, either mentally or something, to get in your head. It's one of his qualities."
During an era when coaches prefer players they can relate to, Bowman never changed. Like Lombardi or Bear Bryant, it was his stern, hard, difficult way or the highway.
Even Yzerman, Detroit's virtual on-ice coach, wasn't especially snug with his head coach.
"He doesn't get real close to the players," Yzerman said. "He's not the kind of coach that opens his door and allows you to come in and chat. He's very business-like."
And how do players keep a man like that happy?
"Just show up, work hard, and keep your mouth shut," Yzerman said. "Simple as that ... and play well defensively."
Jackson is different. In Chicago, he built a genuine bond with Michael and the Jordanaires, creating an us-against-them mentality with the players and coaches against management.
He's friends with his players, motivating them through the books he asks them to read, movie clips he tells them to watch and fights he picks in the media. Everything is calculated.
He is part teacher, part counselor, part psychologist, part mental manipulator. He once used a clip of the movie "Devil's Advocate," during which a woman slashes her throat with a piece of glass, to explain to Jordan and the rest of the Bulls what happens when they hold the ball too long on offense and don't run the triangle offense with precision. It was suicide.
He often criticizes opposing coaches, teams or cities in the newspaper, to get them more focused on him and less focused on the game. When those tactics get old, he focuses on his own team. In Chicago, it was Toni Kukoc who frequently felt Jackson's public wrath. Last year, Jackson singled out Bryant for being too self-centered. This season, before the playoffs were about to begin, he publicly criticized O'Neal for not giving his all.
"He knows how to get others scared, how to motivate them," O'Neal said. "He knows if he blasts me in the paper, I won't respond. I'll just go dominate the next game. Every now and then I say something back and people think we have a problem. We don't have a problem. It's total respect. I realize if it wasn't for Phil, I wouldn't have any championships."
Bowman, on the other hand, won nine titles in 30 seasons. He started when there were 12 teams, ended when there were 30. Nobody in the NHL has more victories in the regular season, playoffs or Stanley Cup finals. And no current coach has won more than one title.
"There are very few people that, while they are doing it, you say no one is going to come close to that," Maurice said. "And to do it during the greatest era of change in the game, the 30-team league, all that other stuff, is incredible. Nobody is getting near this guy."
Jackson's place in history -- at least for now -- isn't quite so set.
Critics, Auerbach among them, contend that he coached ready-made championship teams. Anybody with a clipboard and whistle could have led Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen or Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant to the NBA promised land.
However, during the six seasons before Jackson, Jordan failed to reach the NBA Finals. After Jackson arrived, he won six championships. Before Jackson, the O'Neal-led Lakers failed to advance past the conference finals. After Jackson, they won three straight championships. And counting.
Jackson has won his last 24 postseason series. He is 9-0 in NBA Finals series. The last time Jackson lost a playoff series was in 1995, when the Magic beat the Bulls in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
His run of nine titles in 11 seasons is nearly unprecedented in professional sports. Eight of Auerbach's titles were consecutive, but that was during an era of no free agency, no salary cap and only 10 teams in the league. It was hardly the landscape of today.
So where does Jackson belong among coaching greats?
According to Bryant, right alongside Bowman, as part of coaching's greatest odd couple.
"I think his record speaks for itself," he said. "You can say, 'Yeah, Michael and Scottie, and Shaq and Kobe.' But you look at some of the teams in the past, teams who had three-peated, look at all the players they had. They had three All-Stars, four All-Stars, four or five Hall of Famers. I don't care what anybody else says -- he's one of the best."
Wayne Drehs is a staff writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.