Once a Terrier, Always a Terrier
BU's Parker Recalls Decisions to Stay Upon Retirement
by Joe Meloni/Senior Writer
BOSTON Jack Parker was driving south. Heading from Boston toward Connecticut — New Haven, specifically — to look into a new opportunity. Just a few weeks earlier, Parker led Boston University to a third consecutive ECAC championship and a national semifinal, falling to Minnesota, 4-2, in the 1976 NCAA tournament.
Awaiting Parker when he arrived in New Haven was a meeting with Yale athletic director and legendary football coach Carmen Cozza. Thirty-seven years later, it's unthinkable, but Parker was to interview for the vacant head coaching position at Yale just three years after becoming head coach at his alma mater. Frustrated over a desire for a salary bump, Parker planned to see what Cozza could offer.
Jack Parker as head coach at Yale.
No, Parker couldn't even imagine this. Even without the raise he wanted, he just couldn't picture it. Boston University and its men's ice hockey program are as much a part of Parker's life as anything beyond his family. So Parker pulled over, into a motel in Ashford, Conn., and found the first pay phone he could. Speaking with Cozza, he apologized. He just couldn't do it.
"I got about two-thirds of the way down there. I thought, 'What am I doing? This guy is a class act. I don't want to leave BU, even though I'm mad at them right now. I can't do this just to get a raise out of BU. That's not fair to Carmen,'" Parker said. "So I wound up pulling over at the Ashford Motel in Connecticut. There weren't any cell phones in those days. I called him and said, 'This isn't right. I'm not coming.'"
He recounted this story on Monday afternoon at Agganis Arena in front of a collection of friends, family, colleagues, former and current players and media. Parker, athletic director Mike Lynch and BU president Robert Brown called the press conference to announce that this, Parker's 40th season as BU head coach, would be his last.
Initial reports surfaced Sunday afternoon, and Parker told his current team, which opens its quest for a Hockey East championship against Merrimack on Friday, that it would have a new coach next season.
In an instant, names started shooting around as viable options to replace Parker. Current assistant Mike Bavis, Colorado Avalanche head coach Joe Sacco and assistant Dave Quinn and New York Rangers assistant Mike Sullivan are just some of the names up for consideration.
Lynch said on Monday that Parker will have a role in the search. Replacing Parker at BU is no simple task. With 894 wins, three national championships and nearly 50 years of total service to BU, it's fitting that Parker have a hand in identifying his successor.
Current and former players said on Monday that they were stunned to hear of Parker's retirement despite knowing the day was coming eventually.
"I hadn't heard anything, and it was something we didn't want to hear," BU alternate captain Garrett Noonan said. "He's like a father to all of us, and he's been unbelievable for me and the rest of the guys. It's kind of sad that it had to happen, but we still have some games left. We want to do everything we can for him."
"I was a little sad," Mike Grier, an all-American at BU in 1995, said. "You know it's going to happen, but you never expect it or are ready for it. I know it's good for him, and I'm happy for him. I know he's happy, and he's going to get time to relax and spend time with his family. It's good, but it's a sad day for the program."
The legacy BU's next coach has to follow speaks for itself. Parker embodies BU hockey. His influence on the game spreads beyond Commonwealth Avenue as well. NHL all-stars and coaches at every level of professional and amateur hockey became who they are because of their old coach from Somerville, Mass.
Despite his resume, the last year-and-a-half has been a tumultuous time for Parker and his program. Former BU players Max Nicastro and Corey Trivino were arrested on sexual assault charges stemming from separate incidents last season. Parker never hid from the scrutiny that came with these instances.
Still, they occurred on his watch and the ensuing investigation into the behavior of hockey players at BU revealed some disturbing details. These incidents will always cloud Parker's legacy at BU. They don't define it, however. He returned to BU this season after mulling retirement last year to make sure of this.
"People are entitled to their opinions. People that are looking from the outside and seeing just small bits and pieces of information, they question his credibility because of certain reports," BU associate head Mike Bavis said. "He's very comfortable, and we're very comfortable, with all of the different things we've done year in and year out, whether it's education, whether it's team rules or whether it's discipline. We're comfortable that he did as much as he could to help our players make the right decisions."
Current BU captain Wade Megan understands the questions about Parker's legacy. He, however, agrees with Bavis that a series of incidents involving a few players can't erase more than four decades of positive contributions to the university.
"He's taught me as much about life as he has the game of hockey, whether he knows it or not," Megan said. "The things he's passed on to me aren't just things I'll use in hockey but in my everyday life. I think all of the players will say that. He's not just a hockey coach. He's a life coach. I'm just grateful that he, not only gave me the opportunity to play here, but gave me the chance to be captain."
The connection to BU that makes Parker such an instrumental force in the lives of those involved with BU hockey is the reason he turned down the opportunity at Yale in 1976. It's the same one that made him resist multiple overtures from the Boston Bruins in the last two decades and the Hartford Whalers before that.
As Monday's event broke up, Parker wrangled his grandchildren and headed toward the exit with them and his daughters. Despite the mixed emotions of the day, Parker looked satisfied and truly pleased with the decision he made. Before he could reach the door, current BU senior Sean Escobedo met Parker with open arms. The 6-foot Escobedo dropped into Parker's arms, resting his head on his coach's shoulder.
Earlier in the day, Parker quipped that he's lucky enough to have two daughters and more than 200 sons. Escobedo and his teammates are among Parker's youngest. Parker and Escobedo's embrace wasn't that of two colleagues or an obligatory pat on the back between player and coach.
Parker loves his players and the university they jointly represent. He did in 1976, as well, when he realized in his car on the way to New Haven, Conn. — and in 1991 and 1997, when he flirted with taking jobs in the NHL — that BU was the only place he ever wanted to be.