Life With Scotty Bowman – Best Coach Ever?

Featured Photo Credit: Ed Kilgore's personal collection.

No question the most fascinating person I associated with in a 40-year plus TV broadcast career was William Scott Bowman, or Scotty as everybody knows him. Sports Illustrated once had Scotty’s picture on the front cover entitled “Best Coach Ever?” Not best hockey coach, but best COACH. There’s a good argument to support that.

Bowman will turn 90 in September, and after living near the 6th fairway at Transit Valley CC for many years, Bowman now reportedly spends most his time in Sarasota Florida.

Photo from blutusktech.com.

First a quick shout out to my sponsors BluTusk Tech in Orchard Park and McKinley Wines and Spirits at the McKinley Mall. Great people who are huge Buffalo boosters own these businesses and I know them personally.

Photo from mckinleywineandspirits.com

Bowman is the NHL’s all-time winningest coach, with 1,244 regular season wins, 223 playoff wins, and a staggering total of 14 Stanley Cups won as either a player, coach or executive. Only Jean Beliveau had more winning 17 with the Montreal Canadiens.

Being around Scotty is interesting whether you’re a player or media hack. He loved to keep people off balance, and it took me a couple years to realize sometimes there was a method to his madness. He wanted players to get mad at him occasionally because he felt they played with more intensity. But love him or not, players KNEW he knew how to win and bought in totally.

Bowman’s leap from Montreal to Buffalo in 1979 was shocking. He was hugely successful as a coach in Montreal, winning five Stanley Cups there. But what a lot of people didn’t know, he was also ready to move to management, and Sabres owners Seymour Knox and Norty Knox began a quiet courtship that paid off when the Sabres named him as General Manager. The plan was that he wouldn’t get back behind the bench, but still only 45, the temptation was too great and Bowman wore both hats with the Sabres. He was an astute GM. During one two year stretch in the early 80’s, Bowman started rebuilding an aging team by acquiring six first round draft picks. Two of them, Dave Andreychuk and Phil Housley, are now with Bowman in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Ch2 was broadcasting 30 Sabres games per season when Bowman came aboard, and as part of the broadcast team (Ted Darling and Pat Hannigan) as intermission host, our paths would cross quite often. This was especially true on the road, when I had to get Scotty’s permission to talk to certain players during the intermission. That usually wasn’t a problem, but not always. Once, in a hotel lobby in Vancouver, I asked to talk to Tony McKegney. Little did I know McKegney was in Bowman’s doghouse, and it was a two story doghouse! “What do you wanna talk to him for? What’s HE done lately?”

This was a rhetorical question. Awhile later, Rob McClanahan joined the Sabres just after being a part of the USA’s gold medal team at Lake Placid. He was the obvious interview choice, but I couldn’t find Bowman. There was Rob, so he was happy to be a guest; now to find Bowman. He found ME. “So you already asked him before asking me? What if I’d said no? Then I’m the bad guy.” He had a point, but gave Rob and me the green light.

Usually the fact I was Sports Director at Ch2 while also being part of the Sabres broadcast team wasn’t a problem – I was paid by Ch2 – but the two worlds collided more than once.

Rick Martin had become a friend, which isn’t encouraged by journalism schools for good reason. We’re supposed to be totally objective, and even the appearance of favoritism could be a problem. That wasn’t a concern for me at the time, because I was in TV sports because I loved the job – it wasn’t to break stories about the team. Rico called me one day and told me he was suing the Sabres and Bowman for $10 million in damages because he felt Bowman forced him to play with a badly injured knee. Martin actually retired early as a direct result after being traded to the LA Kings, but years later he was awarded $2 million.

Immediately after airing the story about Martin on Ch2 at 6pm, I had a phone call on hold. It was Bob Swados, the Sabres General Counsel. “Ed? BOB SWADOS!! What the (expletives) are you DOING? Why didn’t you call me first? This is the first I’ve heard of this. I have to see it on the news?” I explained I had tried to reach the Sabres but hadn’t heard back – true – but to interview Rick I had to do it first. We sat on his apartment steps and he had the papers right in his hand.

Both the Sabres and Ch2 were now upset with me, but the horse was out of the barn.

One year Andreychuk broke his collarbone just before the playoffs, which was a huge blow, as he was easily the Sabres leading scorer. The Sabres issued a statement that Andreychuk had tripped going down his basement stairway while holding a garden hose. Sounds about right. But immediately THREE different Sabres players called me to say “keep my name out of it, but he was goofing off riding an all terrain vehicle of some kind and went over the handlebars after hitting a hole in the ground. Three sources? I went with it, once again falling into disfavor from both Ch2 and the Sabres, but they were really upset and who could blame them?

The Sabres PR staff told me Scotty wanted to meet in his office. Nice office in the Aud, and first time I’d been in there. To my surprise, Scotty wasn’t upset with me, but wanted my assurance that my “sources” were credible. I assured him they were, and he knew better than to even ask if I’d tell him who they were. Shortly after, he called in each player individually, and every single player denied it, including Andreychuk. Here’s the telling part; Andreychuk didn’t confront me or defend himself, he simply quit talking to me. He scored five goals in a game at Boston and refused to go on with me during the post game show. Many years later we shook hands but the subject didn’t come up.

Typical Bowman. I repeated a hot rumor floating around about a possible trade, and Mike DeGeorge (at Ch2 then) interviewed Bowman, who said “I’d like to trade Ed Kilgore for an announcer to be named later”.

Next day we’re at the airport to fly to another game, and I realize Scotty is right next to me. He says “Nice story huh? I never thought you’d use that”. He chuckled.

We’re in Quebec for game five of the Division semifinals in the 1984-85 season, and the Sabres blow a two goal third period lead and lose the series. The Sabres were in a tiny locker room, and when the media was allowed to come in, the players are all sitting there with their heads down. Bowman sees us with cameras and says there’s not room for us. I said “So we can only talk when you win?” Yep. Really did say that. Bowman calmly responded that if we’d wait out in the hallway, they’d bring the Sabres out one by one. On the plane ride back home, I was the subject of some good natured ribbing but must admit it was kinda cool they noticed.

My final Bowman story centers on the Alex Mogilny defection from the then Soviet Union. The story hit the wires, but nobody knew anything. So I called Bowman, who by now would give me little snippets now and then, and what he said almost knocked me off my chair. He said (Gerry) Meehan and Don Luce are on their way to Stockholm right now to pick him up and bring him straight back to Buffalo. Meehan, then GM, had a law degree in Immigration Law, and Luce had scouted the Soviet Union often and was familiar with Mogilny.

But how could I confirm this? I called Diane Luce, Don’s wonderful wife, and she was stunned that I called her. She “knew nothing”, but I knew Diane well enough to know she was worried about spilling the beans. Finally I said “will I be wrong if I report this on Ch2?” Pause. “No.” Then she proceeded to give me their flight information for the Buffalo Airport, and we were the only ones there!

If you’re lucky, you get to meet somebody like Scotty Bowman once. He showed me his basement “museum” once in Amherst and he had more “stuff” than you can imagine – everywhere – walls, trophy cases etc. He always loved to show off the Cup to his neighbors and friends, and they saw the Cup a LOT.

Wish you well, Scotty, and keep ‘em in the fairway!

Again my thanks to co-sponsors BluTusk Tech in Orchard Park and McKinley Wines and Spirits in McKinley Mall. Great people.

Editor’s babble: Many thanks to Ed Kilgore for his contributions to our blog. You can also find Ed on Twitter @Kilgore2Ed.

BuffaloFAMbase.com is sponsored by 26 Shirts

Every Monday, we launch a new two-week campaign of a limited edition t-shirt design. Every shirt purchase results in a donation to a local family in need. After the campaign ends, the shirt is retired. A new design is released, and a new family benefits from your fandom!

1 thought on “Life With Scotty Bowman – Best Coach Ever?”

  1. As a fan on the outside, it’s terrific to hear your stories thank you for providing snippets of your life in journalism.

Comments are closed.