More than most coaches, the Bullets' Gene Shue literally leads his team through each game. He calls most of the plays and the defenses from the bench, and he makes substitutions by situation, not by habit.
This season, he has stressed fundamentals, defense and a patient, controlled offense. Throughout the drive to the playoffs, he has been the man in control of the Bullets.
During a recent game against Cleveland at Capital Centre, Shue was observed from warmups to final buzzer. A look at Gene Shue on the job follows:
Shue walks slowly out to the court five minutes before game time. He's wearing a light gray suit with light blue pinstripes. He stands away from his players during pregame introductions and claps slowly as each starter is introduced.
Once the game begins, he always sits two seats from the end of the bench that is closest to the scorer's table. Trainer John Lally sits in the first seat and the second is vacant. Lally keeps track of timeouts and personal fouls. Assistant Coach Bernie Bickerstaff is seated to Shue's right, and the reserves leave two seats between them and Bickerstaff.
Shue usually sits calmly on the bench with his hands clasped in front of him, showing little emotion. He jumps up, folds his arms and walks, usually backwards, down the bench when something bothers him.
Shue frequently claps to offer encouragement, and he and Bickerstaff discuss what's happening on the floor throughout the game.
During timeouts, Shue gets down on one knee with a clipboard to diagram plays, while the players in the game sit on the bench in front of him. The other players gather around behind Shue. Timeouts are usually spent correcting a mistake or setting up a specific play.
Shue sees and reacts to everything on the court.
"Make him play. Make him play," he yells at Frank Johnson as he passes up a jump shot. Shue wanted Johnson to take his shot so his defender would have to play honestly and not sag back to help out somewhere else.
"Get up," he says in frustration to Rick Mahorn as Scott Wedman makes a jump shot over him.
Later he yells at Greg Ballard to pass the ball as he dribbles upcourt. Almost instantly Ballard bounces a pass to Spencer Haywood, who scores a layup. Shue is yelling, "Get back, get back" before the ball has fallen through the net and then sits back down, confidently.
"Let's execute" is the phrase Shue uses most often during a game.
Late in the first half, with the Bullets ahead by 10, Jeff Ruland throws a quick pass inside toward Haywood that goes out of bounds. Shue clenches his fists, glares at Ruland and says, "No, you know he can't catch that ball."
The Bullets are in complete control early, but Shue is still coaching as if his team were in the NBA championship game. He is incensed at Kevin Grevey when the guard takes off for the offensive end while his man is getting an offensive rebound and scoring. Grevey looks at Shue and shrugs.
Shue has a personal scouting report on every player in his head. He calls Mahorn over for a talk when Cleveland puts Kevin Restani in the game for James Edwards. "He's an outside shooter, so stay up on him," Shue says.
After Cliff Robinson makes two consecutive short turnaround jumpers, Shue calls Ballard over and says, "You can't just go down and let that guy post up. You see what happens when you do."
Grevey isn't having a particularly good game. After he travels with the ball, Shue has seen enough. He yells at Don Collins to replace Grevey. Collins checks into the game, but before play is stopped, Grevey makes a jump shot and Shue changes his mind.
He calls back a perturbed Collins.
"Let him play, maybe he'll straighten up," Shue says.
Two minutes later, Grevey misses a three-point shot and Shue takes him out.
Shue loves to call plays.
During a timeout he diagrams something called a 3-slip, a play designed to get the ball inside to Mahorn. But to mislead Cleveland, he tells the players to call out "33-C"--a play designed to set up a 15-foot jump shot for Ballard. Teams are so well-scouted in this league that everyone knows every other team's plays as soon as he hears them.
"Yell out '33-C' real loud, but run the 3-slip," Shue says.
The Bullets return to the floor. Johnson yells, "33-C," Shue stands up and repeats it. The Cavaliers all smile and run to spots on the floor, ready to defend against a 33-C. The Bullets run the 3-slip and Mahorn scores a layup.
Shue sits down again, smiling.
During this game, Shue calls 15 plays from the bench and the Bullets score on 10. He often directs his players to spots on the court after he calls a play.
Shue's first substitution is Ruland for Haywood midway through the first quarter. Then he goes to Collins for Grevey, Charles Davis for Ballard and John Lucas for Johnson. Then he brings Haywood back for Mahorn.
The game is a rout by the end of the third period, and Jim Chones, Garry Witts and Carlos Terry play. Only Terry fails to score.
Shue rides officials as much as any coach, but he doesn't use profanity and usually knows when to stop arguing. He has only eight technical fouls this season, and hasn't been ejected from a game.
"Come on," he yells at Dick Bavetta after the official calls Johnson for a hand-checking foul. "You let Moses bang on everybody."
"Who?" asks Bavetta.
"Moses Malone. You have heard of him, haven't you?"
Johnson gets knocked to the floor by Bob Wilkerson and no foul is called.
Shue leaps off the bench yelling at Bob Rakel, the other official.
"I didn't see it," Rakel says.
Shue shrugs and sits down.
He's up again, however, when he thinks Wedman has traveled.
Rakel looks at Shue and says, "No he didn't."
"Yes he did," says Shue.
"No he didn't."
Shue laughs and Rakel wins.
The Bullets are outscored by 12 points in the fourth quarter, but still win by nine. In a ritual performed after every Bullet victory, Shue turns to Bickerstaff and they exchange high fives. It's something else Shue does well.