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 I 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."