Before Lombardi, Bob Pulford was the Original Kings Architect

Wednesday, 03.16.2011 / 3:00 PM / Los Angeles Kings | News
By Rich Hammond
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Before Lombardi, Bob Pulford was the Original Kings Architect
 
One coaching colleague called it ``the Bible.'' It was written by a young hand, but one who felt he knew what the Kings needed, and decided to put it all down on paper.

Bob Pulford was only 36 years old when he took over as coach of the Kings, but he had seen enough to know that things needed to change, on and off the ice. The Kings hadn't been a playoff team -- and hadn't totaled more than 63 points -- for three seasons when Pulford made the transition from player to coach before the 1972-73 season.

Within three years, Pulford had set the Kings on a new course, guiding them to a franchise-best 105 points in 1974-75, a record that still stands today. For his record as coach and as a Hall of Fame player, Pulford is being honored by the Kings as part of their ``Legends Series'' before Saturday's game against Anaheim at STAPLES Center.

Perhaps, somewhere, someone still has a dog-eared copy of the pamphlet Pulford took to Kings owner Jack Kent Cooke upon his hiring as coach almost 40 years ago.

``I put it all on paper,'' Pulford said. ``I wrote it all out, what I thought had to be done and how I thought it should be done, and I gave it to Cooke. It was a little book on how I thought hockey should be played, and the changes I thought had to be made.

``There was discipline involved in it. How do you discipline? What do you do? There were systems in there. How to win faceoffs, where to position defensive players, offensive plays, and then there was just basic philosophy of how to coach a hockey team and what was needed, all aspects of it.''

A still-young Bob Pulford is pictured here with the Kings.
Pulford certainly had the credentials. In a Hall of Fame playing career as a forward, Pulford totaled 792 points in 1,079 career NHL games, but more importantly, established himself as a top defensive forward on some talented Toronto Maple Leafs teams.

A native of suburban Toronto -- Newton Robinson -- Pulford played two years of junior hockey in Toronto before joining the Maple Leafs for the 1956-57 season. Toronto missed the playoffs in Pulford's first two seasons but gradually improved and won the Stanley Cup in his sixth season. And his seventh. And his eighth. And his his 11th.

Pulford became known off the ice as well. In 1967, Pulford and five other players helped form the NHL Players' Association, and Pulford was elected president. Alan Eagleson was named executive director in moves that were 10 years in the making.

``I represented the players long before that,'' Pulford said. ``As a young man, I was head of the player-owner council, which involved me against the owners. That may be hard to understand now, but it was me against the owners. I would go in and meet with them, and I would say, `OK, our per diem is $10 a day. Can we get it up to $15? Our pension, can we change it to a cost-of-living type of pension?' These were things that I would bring up, and they would basically say to me, `We will take this under consideration,' and then not do anything. In those days, the player had no rights. If they didn't like you, they could send you to the minors, when there were no waivers or anything, and they paid us very little money, compared to now.

``I had a good friend in Alan Eagleson. We had tried, when I first came into the league under Ted Lindsay, to form a players' association. For some reason, they took me -- I was 19 years old -- they took me with them to meet. We came close to forming the players' association 10 years earlier, but all of the clubs had to be members, and one team didn't become a member, so it was defeated. Then, 10 years later, we were successful. The players' association was something that was needed, but like a lot of other things, the pendulum went from `being needed' back to the other side, when it went too far. Now maybe it's back where it can be successful.''

Why was Pulford selected? He acknowledges that it probably had something to do with his educational background. Because while Pulford was building a Hall of Fame career and winning Stanley Cups, he was also hitting the books in his spare time.

Bob Pulford's picture as coach in an old Kings yearbook.
Through night-school and summer-school classes, Pulford earned his bachelor's degree at the University of Hamilton, in Ontario. Joe Pulford had a lot to do with that diploma.

``I had a father who didn't care whether I played hockey or not,'' Pulford said. ``I remember one day, when I was playing junior hockey, I got cut above the lip and I had 52 stitches. My face was swollen. It was just completely swollen on both sides and it looked twice as big. I said, `I'm not going to school today, looking like this.' He looked at me and said, `OK, Bob. I'll phone the coach and tell him that you have quit hockey.' So, low\ and behold, I went to school that day.

``When I signed, to turn pro, I had a no-cut contract. It was completely unheard of in those days. And the reason I had it was, my father had it written in the contract that I could not be traded until I finished university. I went to night school and summer school and finished my college education that way. He was a very strong man, and he didn't care whether I played hockey but he wanted his boys to have a college education, and they all did.''

Continue reading part 2...