Vince Lombardi could beat you with the sweep, the bomb, the epigram. Winning isn't everything; it's the only tiling. His record with the Green Bay Packers (and an orphan year with the Washington Redskins) was 105-35-6. His teams won six division titles, five NFL Championships and the first two Super Bowls. Lombardi was the dominant coach of the dominant sport of his generation, precisely the reason the breathless Y2K polls that proclaimed him coach of the century got it wrong. Lombardi's head-coaching career began in the 1950s and ended with his death from cancer in 1970, but he was a man of the '60s—the era when football became America's Game and Green Bay became America's Town. It was also the last decade when coaching was relatively simple. The confluence of events that would alter American sports—the upheaval on college campuses, the emergence of the black athlete, the transformation of athletes into celebrities—did not strike the NFL like a gale-force wind until after Lombardi's death. The Packers he led so skillfully were temperamentally closer to the soon-to-be soldiers he coached at Army in the '50s than the players current Packers coach Mike Sherman handles. It seems doubtful that Lombardi would have been malleable enough to confront the modern athlete, a challenge that ultimately proved too daunting for a legendary contemporary, Tom Landry.
If Lombardi spoke in slogans, Scotty Bowman speaks the way William Faulkner wrote. There are dips and digressions and tangents and tributaries to his gurgling stream of consciousness, but beneath the tangle of words and infamous obsession with schedules and flat-out head trips was the most adept coach ever to run a professional team in North America. He won nine Stanley Cups with three different franchises ( Montreal, Pittsburgh, Detroit) while using three different styles (balanced, high-powered and a left-wing lock) in a career that spanned four decades. He won with the Flying Frenchmen up front and the Big Three on defense. He won with Europeans. He won in the Age of Offense. He won in the Dead Puck Era. He won in a 16-team league and a 26-team league. He won.
Bowman, now 69, was a jumble of coaching contradictions, a sometimes rude and stubborn man who was surprisingly flexible, an old-school coach who managed to remain modern. Bowman saw the game differently than any other coach, cobbling together a five-man unit composed entirely of Russians at a time when many European players' commitment to the rigor of the playoffs was widely questioned and using a pair of puck-moving defensemen, Nicklas Lidstrom and Larry Murphy, against Philadelphia's Legion of Doom line in the 1997 final when every other coach had tried to fight muscle with muscle. There simply has never been a better bench coach.
Of course Bowman, in the Hockey Hall of Fame since 1991, made all those Y2K lists too; he was the first hockey coach on the list when he should have been the first coach, period.