Bower drives Pistons from behind the scenes
Auburn Hills —The first cups of coffee are poured a little before 7:30 each morning.
That’s about the time Pistons general manager Jeff Bower climbs down the steps at the Pistons practice facility for his first meeting with coach and president Stan Van Gundy.
Van Gundy usually pushes a sheet of paper in front of him with concerns he scribbles down before he goes to bed the night before.
Ten minutes later, most of the items on Van Gundy’s checklist are covered without the coach saying a word. Bower doesn’t usually see it, but Van Gundy smiles behind his desk, knowing Bower will free his mind of day-to-day issues so he can focus on practice and running the team.
“The amount of time I even think about stuff is minimal during the season,” Van Gundy said. “I don’t have to deal with any of it. I don’t have to worry about things being taken care of. I don’t have to worry at night wondering if we should be doing this or that. He is three steps ahead of me.”
Van Gundy is likely to get most of the credit if the Pistons become contenders.
But the normally mild-mannered Bower, 54, is not simply along for the ride. He pushes much of the agenda Van Gundy wants, in part because he knows what his boss needs. He’s been in charge before — with the Hornets and at Marist University — and knows what Van Gundy, the coach, needs.
He’s also been a general manager, and knows what Van Gundy, the executive, needs.
“I am always trying to anticipate what is coming around the curve,” Bower said. “One thing you learn in coaching is you have to have backup plans and you must look ahead so you are not caught by surprise. I know what the job represents because I worked in those shoes. I try to have things as organized and ahead of the game.”
Bower negotiates contracts, helps set the draft board, and tells Van Gundy what is available during those morning meetings.
“It is a little bit different,” Van Gundy said. “I think it is harder in some ways. He has to do what every other GM does, but he has to balance what I like. ... His experience has been extremely valuable to what we are doing.”
Driven to win
This is a relationship forged on the recruiting circuit when Van Gundy was a college assistant at places like Vermont, Massachusetts-Lowell and Fordham, and Bower worked as an assistant at Penn State and Marist.
“We weren’t drinking buddies or anything like that,” Van Gundy said.
But they kept tabs on each other.
And when Van Gundy was named Pistons president and coach, he needed somebody who was his opposite in many ways.
Van Gundy was known as high strung and sees the big picture.
Bower is the details guy.
But, Bower is a basketball guy, too. And one who has the same goal in mind — winning.
“My thought process (on leaving Marist for the Pistons) was an ownership group that wants to bring a winner to the Detroit area,” Bower said. “I had the belief in Stan. I liked that he emphasized that people become difference-makers ... getting quality people who are driven or hungry and have a work ethic and values.”
And in turn, Bower’s work ethic and values rub off on others.
Take Andrew Loomis, director of basketball operations for the Pistons, who was was hired out of Tulane by Bower as an assistant of basketball operations with the Hornets.
Loomis sees Bower as a teacher, and he said he allows people to make their mistakes, but wraps a fatherly arm around them because he wants to make them better.
“If you spend time with him and listen to him, you are going to be prepared to do your job,” Loomis said. “Jeff asks a lot of questions. The biggest thing with him is you can communicate a point but you have to support it.”
One step ahead
The assumption is that Van Gundy gives Bower a shopping list and he fills it the best he can.
Bower works in concert with Van Gundy, and often goes in directions independent of his coach.
For example, when the Pistons targeted Reggie Jackson in a trade with the Thunder, Bower realized Detroit was going to be short at small forward. So, he lined up a trade for veteran Tayshaun Prince and signed young forward Quincy Miller.
“One of Jeff’s strengths is (balancing) all the different things we are trying to accomplish as an organization, which is very difficult to do,” Van Gundy said. “While he has the big picture in mind, he also executes the details extremely well. If we make one move, he is already looking down the line at the next one.”
Van Gundy also disputes the notion Bower is a mild-mannered, quiet guy. He even has a dry sense of humor that sometimes comes out during meetings.
There is also a competitive spirit.
“I think it is really important to a lot of people to see this franchise grow and improve,” Bower said. “The fact that Detroit has been a championship team before shows you it can happen here. And our fan base continues to come out and is eager to create that atmosphere.
“We know they are still here and we know they still care. And if we can give them a reason they will be here and that is our job.”
The Jeff Bower File
Born: Hollidaysburg. Pa.
Education: Education and history degree from St. Francis (Pa.)
1983-86: Penn State University assistant coach
1986-95: Marist assistant coach
1997-2010: Charlotte/New Orleans Hornets: Director of scouting and general manager. Also served as head coach 2009-10
2013-14: Marist head coach