Bob Clarke captained the Philadelphia Flyers for six seasons while playing for Fred Shero. In that span, he won the Stanley Cup twice and three Hart Trophies.
When Fred Shero got to the Flyers in 1971, I was 22 years old and going into my second NHL season. Back then players didn't just go talk to the coach; eventually the coach would tell you what he wanted or needed from you.
I think in today's world every new coach talks to every player and their wives and their kids and everybody else before the season starts. Freddie never said a word through training camp to me personally until probably 30 games into the season. But it didn't bother me at all, because I don't think he was talking to anybody else.
Bob Clarke, who played seven seasons for coach Fred Shero with the Flyers, writes how the Hockey Hall of Fame inductee was an innovator in his field. (Photo: Denis Brodeur/NHLI, Steve Babineau/NHLI)
I don't think there was any ulterior motive behind it. I don't think he was trying to make me work harder or anything.
When he finally did talk to me, he said, "You're kind of hard to coach. You never talk, you don't talk to me." I was afraid to talk him. I said I was 22 years old; I wasn't going to talk to the coach. He snickered a little bit, but then it was all good.
I think that was just the way Freddie was.
Freddie was unique in so many ways. He was the first coach to use team systems. Before that, everybody played the same way on the ice. Every player was taught the same way, even though different players had different roles. That was way ahead of hockey's time. Nobody else ever did that. Freddie also was the first to use video. He was the first to get an assistant coach. He was by far the most progressive coach ever.
But what really stood out is that I never saw him raise his voice to players. There were times you knew he was angry at us, but never did he ever forget that his job was to coach us. So he never attacked any player personally.
He got his point across through practice. If the team was messing up, he would go through those things in practice without telling the players he was doing it. He would be repeating and repeating and repeating the things that he felt you were screwing up with on the ice as a team until you did it the way he wanted you to do it. He never told you why he was doing it, but pretty soon you'd be doing it right.
Because of that players had complete trust in Freddie and what he said and what he taught. And he earned that. He didn't demand it. He never criticized anybody, criticized an athlete. So many coaches will attack players personally, but that was never part of him. He was so far ahead of his time in so many ways. In those days the criticism of individuals by coaches, coaches giving players grief all the time individually, that was the way of coaching. He never did that. He got everybody to play the game properly and play together by being so smart.
Freddie had his peculiarities but I don't think it was an act. I think he was bright enough to do that if he wanted to, but in all honesty, I don't think he did it intentionally. That was him and that was his way. I remember after one road trip, Freddie gives Bernie Parent a ride home, and when they get to Bernie's house he says to Bernie, "How do I get to my house?" So Bernie gives him the wrong directions. The next morning at practice Freddie comes out and says Bernie, I drove around for two hours and I couldn't find my house. Bernie says it's lucky you weren't Christopher Columbus or they'd still be looking for America. The whole team laughs and then away we go.
Just another day for Freddie. Freddie thought it was a big joke.
Everyone remembers Freddie for his sayings. Sometimes they were humorous, sometimes you'd look at them and read them and have to think about what he was saying. In many cases, players just ignored them. There's funny guys in the locker room and not everybody is going to take something from it. But he knew all that. The one obviously that everyone remembers was, "Win today and we'll walk together forever." That was the biggest one he ever wrote. And the best.
That saying, like most of what Freddie said and did, we only recognized later how great it was. As players were traded and went to other teams, none of them found success after they left us. After playing for Freddie, I think it was hard to go someplace else where you're back to the old ways. It was tough for those players. It was really hard for me when Freddie left in 1978 and Bob McCammon came in because McCammon was not a technical coach like Freddie was. I couldn't play for McCammon. I just couldn’t play that style, whatever he was trying to do. I was no good.
It's nice for Freddie and his family that he's finally going in to the Hall of Fame. I think all of us feel it was something that should have happened years ago, but for whatever reason it didn't. We'll complain about that he should have been in years ago, but this isn't the proper time to do that. This is the time you celebrate for Freddie and for his family because it's totally deserving. I think we're just very proud that Freddie is going in.