Here’s my thought; Bill Bowerman, certainly one of the greatest athletic coaches of all time, was probably best at coaching milers (Bill Squires is definitely one of the greatest coaches for longer distances particularly marathon) and he would have gone down in history as one of the best coaches for track and field in general regardless of his acquaintance with or without Lydiard. He coached Otis Davis for his 400m gold medal in the Olympics and was coaching very decent athletes way before he met Lydiard. He coached Bill Dellinger to the Olympic spot well before the explosion of the Lydiard method in 1960. I would still say that he started producing even better middle distance runners after he learnt the concept of “jogging” and employed that concept into his athletic training. There’s this famous picture of young Bowerman leading U of O runners through bushy mountain side, “jogging”. I believe he had coached at least 12 sub-4-minute milers, if I remember it correctly, more than anybody in history (unless you count some coach who might have “trained” African runners to sub-4-miles). I think you’re correct about his tailoring the program to suit the individual. One of his strongest assets as a coach was his ability to observe. He certainly was a far-thinking man, who tried synthetic track surface and unique shoe sole we all became acquainted with known as “Waffle Sole”. He coached sprinters, he coached shot putters, he coached discuss throwers, he coached milers and he coached marathon runners. Not too many coaches in the history of sport showed that much versatility as Bowerman did.
In my opinion, there are two (actually three) types of good coaches; those who can peak athletes well and those who can develop athletes well (and those—very few—who can do both). Bowerman, without doubt, was very good at peaking his athletes (not that he was not good at developing athletes). He was in fact master of that. Dick Brown, then already very well-established athletic coach, was also very good at peaking his athletes. He guided Mary Decker to her double gold medal at Helsinki world championships in 1983 (those who are young readers, they already hosted the world track & field championships once!) as well as helped Vicki Huber’s comeback trail to 1996 Olympics. His resume also includes Shelly Steely, Anne Marie Lauck and Suzie Hamilton. He respected Bowerman a lot and paid regular visit to him, talking and learning running and training. One day in early 1996 he expressed his feeling about perhaps lacking something in his training program; something to “develop” athletes further. If the athlete has the ability to produce “80” and his coach can pull out the best performance out of him, he could produce “80”. Most people can produce 50 or 60. Now in order to compete against the best in the world, you need “100”. So basically pulling out 100% of “80” is not going to be enough; you need to “develop” him from 80 to 100. Bowerman handed him an old red booklet called “Arthur Lydiard’s Athletic Training”. He encouraged Dick to explore more into the Lydiard method.
Bowerman was known as someone who has made comments such as “Why do you need to run far? If you’re competing for 5000m, all you need is endurance to be able to run 5001m” or “Why do you need to do hill training? I’ve never seen hill on the track!” Many people like to just look at certain comments and rush to conclusion that that is his/her philosophy without fully understanding more into between the lines. Yes, Bowerman has made those comments. However, also came from the man himself were such comments as “This kid was running up and down the mountain about 8 miles one way instead of taking a bus. He has very good 400m speed as well. I think we had potential to produce the world’s first sub-4-miler before even Bannister (about this unknown young high school runner he knew in early 50s).” Or when you look at some of his runners’ training such as Wade Bell who was basically an 800m runners; “(He) would run about 25 miles every Saturday…” or “(he would) get up and run 15 miles around Spencer’s Butte (some hilly course as I understand…).” And here we are talking about a half miler.
Bill Bowerman is one of the greatest individuals I had ever had the opportunity to get to know. Not the one to take credit for anything, he was always open about admitting, perhaps even more than necessary (as I mentioned earlier), that he owes his success to Lydiard. Upon his receiving Medal of Honor from President Kennedy (for spreading concept of jogging), he said “I’m but a disciple. Arthur Lydiard of New Zealand is the Prophet.” He also said that “there’s no better coach in the world than Lydiard.” To go back to the very first original question; I think it’s silly to compare coaches like Lydiard, Daniels, Bowerman or whoever. I used to laugh about the English expression of “one of the best…” To me, best means only one. But we really don’t have to limit it. There are many great coaches around; Lydiard, Bowerman, Squires, Koide, Cerutty, Nakamura, Van Aaken… They were/are all great in one way or the other, each on his own way. We all know the contributions of Lydiard and we all know Daniels’ contributions. Only the insecure would try to figure out one is better than the other, or to say one is worse than the other—that’s even worse!