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Vairo first fell under Tarasov's influence in 1974 when, by using up his savings and borrowing additional funds, he traveled to the U.S.S.R. to study Soviet training techniques with a group of North American coaches, including Fred Shero, then coach of the Philadelphia Flyers. International hockey was just opening up at the time, and Vairo was receptive to what he saw. Being essentially an outsider to the sport, he didn't have a bunch of preconceived notions of how things should be done. "It was excellent," Vairo remembers. "On-ice and off-ice lectures and demonstrations. Tactics. Conditioning. It reminded me of American football, the way they had specialists to teach all the different areas. Tarasov gave me some advice. He told me: 'Lou, if you want to be a good coach, don't copy. All you'll get is a cheap reproduction. Don't let the professionals dictate to you. Borrow from all schools, look at the nature of your people, and use their strengths to let them express themselves. Use your imagination, don't be afraid to try something new and don't pick up the pucks after practice.' "
Armed with this philosophy and bursting with ideas, Vairo returned to coach in New York, but was frustrated by the lack of ice-time available to his teams. So in 1975, when he heard about a coaching job that had opened up on a Junior A team in Austin, Minn., Vairo was quick to apply by phone.
"Where are you calling from?" one of the owners of the team, Lynn McAlister, asked.
"Yeah. You sound like you're from Brooklyn. What kind of experience do you have? We're looking for a man with both experience and a reputation in coaching."
"I'm experienced. I've been coaching seven or eight years, and I'd love the opportunity. What's it offer?"
"Ten thousand a year, a car, plus expenses."
"I'll take it!" said Vairo, who at the time was making only $6,000 or $7,000 a year as an air conditioner repairman.
McAlister was taken aback. "Yeah, well, I didn't offer it to you."
The next day Vairo called back and got the president of the Austin Mavericks, Jim Weber. "What did Lynn say we were offering?" he asked Vairo.