Taking over as coach of an NHL team midway through a season is nothing new for Rick Bowness. He was hired to do so by the Winnipeg Jets in 1989 and the New York Islanders in 1997 before being promoted from associate to interim coach by the Coyotes for the final 20 games in 2004.
But returning to the organization in an assistant's role the next season, as Bowness has done this year, is novel to him, not to mention a rarity in sports.
After his stint with the Jets, Bowness moved on to the Boston Bruins organization, and in New York returned next season as coach of the Islanders.
And consider, of the seven coaches who most recently took over one of the Valley's other three major professional sports teams midway through the season (Al Pedrique with the Diamondbacks, Dave McGinnis with the Cardinals and Mike D'Antoni, Frank Johnson, Scott Skiles, Danny Ainge and Cotton Fitzsimmons with the Suns), none came back as assistants.
But after 22 years of coaching professional hockey, titles aren't as important to Bowness as simply being on the ice with a whistle in one hand, a stick in the other.
"We all want to be head coaches, but the reality is that's not going to happen, so as long as I'm coaching, I'm very, very happy," he said.
Switching roles did require somewhat of an adjustment for Bowness, but he said it was an easy one.
"I've been both (a head coach and an assistant) throughout my career, and I've been doing it long enough to know the rules of both," said Bowness, who was also coach of the Ottawa Senators for 3 1/2 seasons and an associate for the Coyotes for five seasons before his interim stint.
Head coaches and assistants typically have different relationships with their players — "You do most of your talking with the assistant coaches, and they buffer between the players and head coaches," right wing Brett Hull said — but Bowness said the change in his title didn't force him to change his approach.
"When you have the interim tag, everyone knows what the rules are at that point," he said.
Plus Bowness added he knew there was a chance he would be an assistant with the organization once the next season rolled around.
"Sure, that was always in there," he said.
"I love the organization, and I wanted to stay and be a part of it.. . . If that's the way it worked out, it worked out great because with Wayne (Gretzky) being here and (associates) Barry's (Smith) and Rick's (Tocchet) backgrounds, it's been a great experience so far, and it will continue to be."