A Kinder, Gentler Maniac BU coach Jack Parker may have mellowed, but he still craves victory

March 23, 1998

Jack Parker's eyes widened through his dark-rimmed glasses, and
his cheeks turned redder than face-off dots as he leaped off the
bench at Harvard's Bright Center on Nov. 25, 1997, and stood
behind the gate in the boards. He flailed his arms like a
conductor and ruffled the silver hair, button-down shirt, rep
tie and blue blazer that made him look more like a college
professor than a hockey coach as he shouted at referee Bill
Doiron, "Get the f--- over here!" The veins in Parker's neck
bulged. Although his Boston University squad held a 4-1
second-period lead, Parker was furiously summoning Doiron, who
had just slapped BU with a two-minute penalty for having seven
players on the ice during a line change. Parker blocked the gate
and refused to send one of his players to the penalty box.
Several expletive-filled yelps later, the coach was hit with a
delay-of-game penalty.

For that brief spell he had been the old Jack Parker, the
loudmouthed chain-smoker who, when he became BU's varsity coach
at age 28, in 1973, had a temper hotter than Mike Keenan's.
Twenty-five years ago outbursts were normal for Parker, whose
idea of a good time was guzzling beer and inhaling cigarettes.
Those habits, though later abandoned, forced him to undergo
minor surgery on Jan. 27 to unblock a coronary artery.

"He used to be an absolute lunatic," says Mike Eruzione, who
skated for Parker from 1973 to '77 and was captain of the U.S.
Olympic hockey team that beat the Soviets and went on to win the
gold medal in 1980. "He would yell and scream and turn different
shades of purple. Today he's much calmer and more of a friend or
father figure to the players."

Parker, 53, hasn't smoked a cigarette in 16 years. He drinks
tea with honey, and he puts a comforting arm around his players
instead of a headlock. He has become less Bob Knight and more
Dean Smith. Since the death of his first wife, in 1978, he has
raised their two daughters. He now sheds his problems not on bar
stools but during restorative afternoon outings aboard his
36-foot sailboat, Twin Lights. One thing, however, hasn't
changed: Parker's teams are still winning.

The Terriers (28-7-2), who through Sunday were ranked second in
the nation behind defending NCAA champion North Dakota, are the
top seed in the Hockey East tournament this week, a position
they hope to secure in the NCAA tournament as well. The NCAA
finals are being played in BU's backyard, at Boston's FleetCenter.

Parker's 566 wins ranks him third among active Division I
coaches, behind Michigan State's Ron Mason and Bemidji State's
Bob Peters, and fourth all-time. In Parker's 25 years at BU, the
school has won two NCAA championships (1978 and 1995) and had
only four losing seasons. Parker has coached 14 Olympians, most
recently Tony Amonte and Keith Tkachuk. Thirteen former Terriers
began the season in the NHL.

"Lots of coaches have had success, but guys like Dean Smith, Joe
Paterno, John Wooden and Jack Parker are great because they know
how to sustain that success," says Ben Smith, the 1998 U.S.
women's Olympic coach and Parker's assistant from 1981 to '90.
"They adapt their style to fit each era."

Twenty-five years ago Parker's tyrannical style stood out. As a
defensive-minded center at BU from 1965 to '68, he played for
hard-driving taskmaster Jack Kelley. When Parker became the
school's B-team coach in 1972 and then varsity coach a year
later, he mimicked his mentor by installing a rigid system with
boot-camp-style practices. A self-proclaimed "egomaniac with an
inferiority complex," he rejected all suggestions for improving
the system, even from assistant coaches. But nobody argued with
his results: a 122-29-2 record and four ECAC crowns from 1973 to
'78.

"I thought there was only one way to do things, and that was the
way we did them," says the fast-talking native of Somerville,
Mass. "But if I was like that now, these kids would leave,
because they have other options besides college."

In the '70s, Eruzione says, "young coaches were very demanding
and hyper, and screaming and yelling were part of the process.
Jack was trying to be a young Vince Lombardi."

What should have been among his most gratifying
achievements--winning his first national championship, in
1978--was bittersweet because his wife of 10 years, Phyllis, had
recently died of cancer. Suddenly Parker found himself a single
parent, faced with raising his daughters, Allison and
Jacqueline, then nine and five. With the help of his mother, who
moved in, and Phyllis's parents, he kept the household going.
But by his own admission, he was smoking and drinking too much.

BU missed the NCAA tournament from 1979 to '83. "I used to sit
in a barroom or a house party with people and have a few beers
and five packs of cigarettes and talk about how bad things
were," Parker says.

"He was like a time bomb," says Eruzione. "You weren't sure what
direction he would go in, but everyone knew he needed help."

It was at his daughters' urging that he quit drinking in 1980.
Two years later he quit smoking. "They were constantly saying,
'Dad, you're killing yourself; you've got to stop,'" Parker says
of his smoking. "I told everyone I would quit on June 6, D Day.
I tried to make myself sick by smoking five packs on June 5, so
I would never want to smoke again." He hasn't had a cigarette
since.

More help came from Ben Smith, who became Parker's assistant
coach in 1981. An avid sailor, Smith eased Parker's smoking
withdrawal by taking him out on Ipswich Bay in his 14-foot
Sturdee Cat. Within a month Parker joined the nearby Annisquam
Yacht Club, started reading sailing magazines and bought a
30-foot sailboat. Although he claims sailing relaxes him, he is
as competitive about it as he is about hockey. "Jack wants to
win yachtsman of the year," Smith says. Parker is so competitive
that before saying anything about his twin brother, Bob, he
brags about being 20 minutes older.

Around the same time that he started sailing, Parker started to
make changes in his approach to coaching. He became more
sensitive to his players and more open to his assistants'
advice. In 1983 he recruited center John Cullen, who led BU back
to the NCAA tournament in 1984. Two years later Parker married
Jacqueline Gibson, whom he had met when she worked in the BU
athletic department in the late '70s. "I wasn't so miserable
anymore in my personal life or my hockey life," Parker says. "I
changed my 'everything sucks' attitude to a 'this is pretty
good' attitude."

In the '90s he has navigated BU to eight consecutive NCAA
tournaments and helped his players cope with a series of
tragedies, including forward Kevin Mutch's death in a car
accident on Labor Day 1992; goalie J.P. McKersie's near-fatal
bicycle crash in July 1994; and forward Travis Roy's paralyzing
injury 11 seconds into his college career in October 1995.

Last May, Parker turned down the Boston Bruins' coaching job. He
had declined the job once before, in 1991, but he admits that he
gave the more recent offer serious thought until he was visited
by a former Terrier, Kaj Linna of Finland. "I realized how much
I enjoy the relationship I have with former players, the guy who
is 35 years old now," Parker says. "It's a bond we have, and it
would be hard to leave the friends I've made here."

"He's become more sensitive and more giving of his feelings,"
says Jacqueline. "He's much more open, and he lets people know
the real Jack Parker."

Back at Harvard last November, the real Jack Parker reappeared,
straightening his tie as he returned to the bench. He watched as
Harvard scored a power-play goal on its two-minute, two-man
advantage to narrow the score to 4-2, and afterward he told
reporters that his tirade had been uncalled for. "I take full
responsibility for them scoring that goal," he said. "I put my
players in a tough spot, and I told them it was my fault."

"It's obvious from the things he's been through, how much he's
changed, but the biggest thing is, he's much happier with
himself," says his daughter Allison, now 30. "He definitely
likes the new Jack Parker more than the old Jack Parker."

He's not the only one.

Scott Lauber is a senior at Boston University. This is his first
story for SI.

COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER "I thought there was only one way to do things, and that was the way we did them." [Jack Parker]

Parker is so competitive that he brags about being 20 minutes
older than his twin brother.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
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HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)