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With more career wins than any current American college hockey coach but one, Jack Parker makes a tempting role model. It would be natural for an apprentice to want to mimic his every gesture and tic and keep a copy of his drills book in a locked vault. Yet the real secret to coaching greatness, says Parker, is not trying to be Jack Parker: it’s learning to be you.
That’s the insight Parker (SMG’68, Hon.’97) passed to John Hynes, who played for him 20 years ago and now coaches the farm team of the National Hockey League’s Pittsburgh Penguins.
“You have to coach to your personality,” says Hynes (SED’97). “At BU, you were going to be coached aggressively. You were going to have to be able to handle Coach Parker’s intensity. He recruited players who would respond to that type of personality.” Today, Hynes, who was among those who had been mentioned as a possible successor to Parker, does the same. After 40 seasons as the BU men’s head coach, Parker announced on March 11 that he was retiring.
“There’s always a recipe that everyone can follow” as a coach in terms of practice routines and tactics, Hynes says. “But it comes down to certain ingredients and the personality of the coach.”
Parker’s final season ended on March 23, when his team lost the Hockey East championship to the University of Massachusetts Lowell. His final tally of career wins was 897, the third highest in NCAA hockey history. But the Parker legacy is greater than the number of his triumphs. It includes seeding the ranks of professional and college hockey with about 40 coaches, assistant coaches, and officials who once skated for him as Terriers.
David Quinn (CAS’89), one of the most highly regarded of Parker’s coaching progeny, takes over as BU’s head coach next season. Quinn has been a coach at BU, Northeastern, and the University of Nebraska Omaha, and has coached the US National Under-17 team, the American Hockey League’s Lake Erie Monsters, and most recently, the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche.
Quinn, who was one of Parker’s assistant coaches during the 2008–2009 season, which culminated in a national title for the team, says he realized during that apprenticeship how much his coaching philosophy relied on Parker’s, particularly his demand for accountability from his players.
Many who played for Parker echo that sentiment, saying he branded their lives and careers with lessons learned on the bench and on the ice. One of those lessons—surprising from a coach who wasn’t shy about combating referees he disagreed with—was, don’t be seduced by your own wins record.
Parker always thought he could learn from others, Hynes says. “I’ve had four or five conversations with Coach Parker a year” since entering coaching. “There are times when he’ll look to pick your brain. He’ll ask, ‘Did you see the last BU game?’ He’ll give you a call, ask, ‘What’s your team doing?’ ”
Kenny Rausch (SMG’95), manager of youth ice hockey for USA Hockey, the sport’s national governing body, borrowed two of Parker’s patented phrases when he coached boys’ hockey camps and US teams at the Junior World Cup: “Those who play well will be rewarded with further play” and “This is a simple game complicated by many.” Such phrases were among the tools Parker used to gain “complete control of the bench when he coached, and I try to do the same,” says Rausch.
BU women’s hockey head coach Brian Durocher (SED’78), who played in goal for Parker and has indicated his interest in coaching a men’s team, has affectionately recalled his coach as “kind of the ayatollah—it was his way or the highway. Sometimes it’s a situation that’s 5 to 1—he still thinks we should be winning 6 to 1. I can’t maintain my intensity as long as him.” (Parker has likewise praised Durocher, saying he became a great coach because he “knew enough that he had to be himself.…Patience is a virtue that he has in spades and I don’t have a lot of.”)
Rausch says it’s amazing that speculation about who would replace Parker included 10 people who played for the man. In addition to Quinn, Hynes, Rausch, and Durocher, others mentioned as possible candidates were Colorado Avalanche head coach Joseph Sacco (CAS’91) and Mike Sullivan (SMG’90), New York Rangers assistant coach.
These men reveled in Parker’s gruff personality and came to love him, in the verb’s literal sense. “I really liked his intensity,” Sacco says. “BU was and still is a close-knit group as far as the alumni and such, and that’s because of Jack. You always feel welcomed back.”
“Other than my father, he is the man who has had the greatest influence on my life,” says Rausch. “He gave me a chance as a walk-on and also gave me my first coaching job. I would not be in the position I am today without him.”
While his current and past players and fans will miss Parker—who remains at BU as a special assistant to President Robert A. Brown—Rausch says there’s one community that won’t mourn the departure of a man who was not shy, or quiet, about disputing officials’ calls.
“That loud cheer you might have just heard was from every college hockey ref who no longer has to listen to him!”