Through onslaught of criticism, Stan Bowman has learned to believe in his decisions
“You never want to do something that’s just popular,” the long-tenured yet oft-criticized Blackhawks general manager said this week.
Stan Bowman hears the criticism.
Criticism might be too light a word. Bowman hears the condemnations, the vilifications, the animosity.
The Blackhawks’ general manager is fully aware a sizable portion of the fan base does not support him at all — and in some cases, actively hates him.
The critics create an overwhelming cacophony of negativity, which only has been heightened by the controversial, poorly explained departures this offseason of two-time Stanley Cup winners Corey Crawford and Brandon Saad.
But Bowman, just as clearly as he hears it, also has come to terms with it.
“I understand that comes with the job,” he said. “I try to look at it from a positive way, and that’s that the fans are passionate: They want the team to win, and when the team doesn’t do well, they get frustrated.”
He grew up heavily involved in the NHL, thanks to his dad, Scotty, being the winningest coach in league history. Despite his 1,467 regular-season and postseason victories and nine Stanley Cup titles, however, Scotty received his fair share of criticism, which young Stan picked up on.
Now, Stan said he worries the criticism directed his way affects his family more than him.
His kids are 18, 15 and 9 years old, no longer youthfully unaware like at the start of his GM tenure. Bowman is 47 and has been through it all before.
“I don’t let it get to me, and I don’t pay a lot of attention to it,” he said. “You’d be silly to say you don’t know it exists, but I’ve got to isolate myself a little bit, because you’ve got to do what you believe in your heart is right.”
He admitted he does have social media accounts, although he never posts and the time he spends on them “waxes and wanes.”
Learning that tidbit probably will thrill a tireless troupe of Hawks fans on Twitter, many of whom use a catchy illustration of Bowman with a red clown nose as their avatar, who spend their days bashing him into the void. Now there’s a chance Bowman is out in that void, seeing their posts.
Bowman knows they exist. He dismissed them as a “vocal minority,” but the “vocal” description holds true.
“They don’t have to agree with your decisions, and they’re entitled to criticize you,” he said. “That’s the fans’ right, and we have to accept it.”
Bowman hopes a new effort by the Hawks to communicate more openly and transparently with fans and reporters about the team’s decisions, logic and plans gradually will ease that anger.
The long-tenured GM talked through a robust media tour this week to put some action behind that promise, conducting one-on-one interviews not only with the Chicago Sun-Times but also a number of other outlets. The tour represented a sharp contrast to Bowman’s normal routine of infrequent, impersonal news conferences.
He even met with Barstool Sports’ Chicago blogger Ryan “Chief” Brandell — one of Bowman’s most constant, aggressive and influential critics — for a lengthy podcast.
Bowman gamely went toe-to-toe with Brandell on a number of hot-button Hawks topics, defending his rationale. The podcast’s informal, occasionally vehement tone differed greatly from his news conferences, but Bowman took it in stride, conveying a down-to-earth side that might soften some fans’ robotic impressions of him.
“We can probably do a little bit better job of communicating and giving some context to the decisions that we do make,” Bowman said. “If [fans] have more of a thought process of what went into a decision, they may still dislike it, but they might understand it a little bit better.”
Context and understanding won’t fix everything. Much of the criticism Bowman receives rightfully stems from trades or signings he has made that haven’t worked out well, and there have been plenty of those in recent years especially.
With the Hawks’ brass continuing to trust him to navigate the rebuild ahead, fans inevitably will find plenty more opportunities to condemn and vilify.
But an unflappable belief in his decision-making process motivates Bowman to forge on.
“You can’t do what’s popular, because although it may be popular in the moment, if it doesn’t work, then it won’t be popular down the way,” he said.
“If you believe it’s right and it’s popular, then that’s great — that’s the perfect scenario. But if you believe it’s right and no one else does, and you turn out to be right, then you can live with yourself much better.”