Review: CSTV's 'Coach' ... Jack Parker
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
College Sports Television continues its "Coach" series tonight (7 p.m. ET) with a look at Boston University mentor Jack Parker.
Parker, who ranks second on the all-time wins list (685 as of today), and first among active coaches, has been at the helm at BU since 1973, when Leon Abbott was fired midseason. He was 27 at the time, and it's the only head coaching job he's ever had.
The series began just before the start of this hockey season with a look at Herb Brooks, former Minnesota coach and leader of the 1980 U.S. Olympic team that won the gold medal. Since then, coaches in a variety of other sports have been spotlighted; this is the first active college hockey coach to receive the distinction.
The 30-minute program (22 sans commercials) glowingly highlights Parker's career, with interview clips from a variety of Boston University disciples, all speaking to Parker's impact as a coach and a person on all of their lives, and all of those in the BU community. Among the interviewees, former BU forward and current Boston Bruins coach Mike Sullivan, 1980 Olympic team members Jim Craig and Mike Eruizone, and more recent players Tom Poti, Jay Pandolfo, Mike Grier, Mike Bavis (also a current assistant coach) and Dan Lacouture.
After the numerous testaments to Parker's legend and character, the show delves into the time when Parker was hired. Though it would have been nice to hear more about it, there is an interesting story about Parker being as stunned as anyone to find out he was the next coach, as the athletic director broke the news to the locker room. Eruzione was a freshman, and he soon showed up at Parker's door. Parker thought Eruzione was going to give him grief over the whole thing, but Eruzione was nonplussed as ever. "Can I get a new pair of skates?" Eruzione said. And Parker was off.
One thing that comes across well is Parker's ability to be tough, yet to remain close to his players long after they leave Boston University. So many coaches have a difficult time with that line between challenging a player — sometimes publicly — and keeping them of the right mindset, and knowing when to do it and when not to. Parker has mastered that over the years.
Of course, this "community" built around BU is not unique, but it has an added mystique because one man has been its patriarch for so long. Nowhere has this manifested itself more than in the Travis Roy situation, a segment that's given a whopping five and a half minutes. This is where the show is strongest, mainly because of the detail given here that it doesn't have time for elsewhere. It goes through the entire incident, with video of Roy getting injured 11 seconds into his only shift in a BU uniform, the rallying of the hockey community around Roy, and how Parker helped Roy by immediately embracing him and finding ways to keep him involved in the program.
The video of the Roy jersey retirement was particularly devastating — especially as someone who hasn't seen it before, and who just recently summoned the courage to finally read Roy's book "11 Seconds," which recounts the ordeal and its aftermath. It's one of the saddest, and most inspiring, chapters in BU lore, as Parker points out.
"It made you believe in the human spirit again," Parker says.
Another interesting part, especially for the lovers of history, is the video and pictures from over the years, things you don't often see about college hockey. Especially look for a young-looking Blaise MacDonald and Don Cahoon on the BU bench, during the years they served as assistants. In fact, a part of the legend is the amount of coaches BU has produced, something the program touched on, though not enough.
Ironically, this show comes at a time when the half-baked criticism against Parker from the masses is starting to crescendo, with the Terriers seven years removed from their last Frozen Four appearance. But despite rumors to the contrary, you get no sense that Parker is tiring from the job. In fact, the show wraps up with discussion of the new arena being constructed on BU's campus, and as Parker and Eruzione go for a tour, the subject of Parker's long-rumored retirement comes up. Parker puts that to rest.
"There's no doubt I want to coach in this [new] building — coach a few years in this building," Parker says. "Our goal is to win a national championship again, and we think this building will help us do that."
What you do get, perhaps, is a sign of the mellowing that's occured, and perhaps humbling as well. Certainly the Roy and Mark Bavis tragedies will do that, as will age.
"I think I'm a competitive guy, [but] as much as I want to make it important, I know it's not really that important," Parker said.
The show hits on a lot, but of course it leaves you wanting more. Some of that is because of the restrictive length of the program, but they could have probably crammed more in had some of the glowing quotes not gotten so repetitive. I understand that some people just never get enough of hearing how great a guy Jack Parker is, but since we pretty much know that already, I'd like to have seen more context given to his great career.
I'd like to have seen interviews with other coaches, discussing why Parker is a good coach, in hockey terms. Perhaps the show could have touched more on the highlights of his career, such as specifically going into the 1978 and 1995 championship years, and the key moments of those runs. A look at the 1997 NCAA tournament semifinal win over Michigan could've given a lot of insight into Parker's methods, and was a huge moment to boot, even though the team fell short of winning the title.
Or how about Parker's interesting relationship with late Maine coach Shawn Walsh? Or more personal stories on how he's changed over the years? Or something that discusses the cold spell BU had in the '80s, which was sandwiched by five straight Frozen Four appearances at the start of Parker's career, and another five from 1993-97?
All would have helped put Parker's career into more context.
Overall, this is a quality program, and worth seeing. It's likely, given CSTV's commitment to the sport, we'll see more college hockey coaches featured in this series in the coming years, and that alone is worthy of our praise. One show that immediately comes to mind as worth doing: Bob Johnson.
The Jack Parker feature will repeat Saturday, Jan. 3 (8:30 p.m. ET), Jan. 6 (10 p.m. ET), Jan. 10 (9 p.m. ET) and Jan. 18 (10:30 p.m. ET). CSTV is currently available on DirecTV Channel 610, and Adelphia and Insight cable systems.