I don't imagine many people thought I meant it last May when, three days after we won the Stanley Cup, I announced I was quitting as coach of the Boston Bruins. I mean, a 37-year-old coach doesn't walk away from a team that has just won the top spot in hockey. A 37-year-old coach doesn't leave a team almost certain to dominate his sport for the next decade. A 37-year-old coach doesn't turn his back on a team that has Bobby Orr on it. So most people thought my resignation was simply some sort of ploy designed to force the Bruins to offer me a better contract.
Forget it. I have never liked coyness, and I have never negotiated when I felt I was in a solid position. The fact is, I knew halfway through the 1969-70 season that no matter what happened—Stanley Cup or no Stanley Cup—I would not be coaching the Bruins for another year.
Why? Money. How much money?
Five thousand dollars. It sounds ridiculous, doesn't it, but let me explain. Before Christmas last year I went to see Milt Schmidt, the Bruins' general manager, and asked him if we could discuss my contract for the 1970-71 season. At the time I was working out the second year of my second two-year contract. Milt said, "Yeah, sure," and he asked me what I wanted—how many years and how much money.
I told him a one-year contract would be long enough and that I thought I deserved an $8,000 raise. Believe me, an $8,000 raise was not going to make me rich.
Milt indicated I was asking for far too much money but said he would discuss it with Westy (Weston W. Adams Jr., the 26-year-old president of the Bruins). A few days later Milt told me that an $8,000 raise was out of the question. He offered me $3,000 instead.
"Milt," I said, "am I to assume this is as high as the Bruins will go?"
"Yes," he said.
For a long time I had entertained doubts about Harry Sinden's future with the Bruin organization, and this incident was the clincher. To me, a coach is a member of the club staff, not a hired hand. The Bruins obviously thought otherwise—and that was that.
As I look back now, I realize I should have known all along that coaching the Bruins offered little long-range security. When I took over in 1966 the team had missed the playoffs for seven years straight. They were established losers. When I arrived in Boston after four years as a minor league coach in the Bruin organization, I told the newspaper writers that I was "mildly optimistic" about making the playoffs that year. It was an overstatement. When the schedule started I realized I had few reasons for any kind of optimism. That 1966 team lacked size and continuity of lines. Most of the players were under 5'10", and small players never do very well in the corners or around the net, the places where hockey games are won or lost. We had smorgasbord lines. Everybody played with everybody else, and nobody ever got to know his linemates. We did have Bobby Orr, but he was just an 18-year-old rookie. This was chaos, as you might imagine. I began to realize just how important keeping your lines together was late in the year when Montreal and New York came into the Boston Garden and skated the same three lines they had used to skate circles around us on their first trip into Boston at the start of the schedule.