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 mat 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."