BOSTON — Jack Parker had been at Boston University about three years when, unable to convince his bosses to give him a raise, he decided to drive down to Yale to interview for the opening there.
Before he could get to New Haven, he pulled off the road and canceled.
“I knew very early on that this was the job for me,” Parker said yesterday, announcing his retirement after four decades on the Terriers bench in which he won almost 900 games and three NCAA titles.
“Forty-eight of the last 49 years I’ve been reporting for duty for BU hockey, and that’s enough,” said Parker, who also played for the Terriers and was an assistant coach for four years. “It’s been a great run, and I had a great time doing it.”
In a wood-paneled club room in a sparkling new arena he helped build, Parker finally said a sort of good bye to a hockey program that has been synonymous with his name. The third winningest coach in NCAA history — his 894 wins, so far, are the most at a single school — Parker will step down after the postseason and move into a fundraising job.
“I always thought of BU as a family,” Parker said to a crowd that included his actual family along with dozens of current and former players, including NHL and Olympic stars. “I’ve got two daughters and 226 sons.”
Michigan has a great hockey program, with nine NCAA titles, but no one in Ann Arbor doubts that the football team runs the show there. Down the Green Line in Chestnut Hill, Boston College is the reigning national champion in hockey but there, too, it skates in the shadow of the revenue sports.
BU has no football team and a mid-major basketball program that hasn’t won an NCAA tournament game since 1959. It is here that Parker set up shop, establishing at this end of Commonwealth Avenue a powerhouse that has sent 66 players to the NHL in his tenure.
“It’s a privilege to play at a place like this,” said former Terrier Mike Grier, who played 14 seasons in the NHL. “I think Coach let everyone know that. That’s why he made sure everyone conducted themselves the right way.”
Despite a graduation rate and winning percentage any major football or basketball program would envy, BU hockey was tainted last season when two players were accused of sexual assault just two months apart. The ensuing university investigation pointed to a “culture of sexual entitlement” on the team; the players, both NHL draft picks, were suspended.
Parker said on Monday that he might have retired last season if not for desire to see the program through the scandal. “We had a lot of adversity to face, and I’m glad I had that experience as well,” he said, adding that he didn’t feel like it tarnished his legacy.
“The people I’m most concerned about know what BU hockey’s all about,” he said.
To Parker, it is about Travis Roy, who in 1995 was paralyzed 11 seconds into his first shift but remains friends with the coach and an active supporter of the program. Parker said the injury was the worst part of his career — but the way the BU community responded was the highlight.
“That was a huge part of my life. I’m really close to him — he’s like family, and he always be,” said Parker, who spoke with Roy by phone on Monday morning; the former player was in Florida on vacation and couldn’t attend. “I’m closer to Travis than any of my players, and he played the least amount of moments for me.”
Parker said he decided to announce his retirement on Monday, at the end of the regular season, to give his current players some notice without turning the season into a farewell tour. “That’s not me,” he said.
Instead, he will remain through the postseason; BU (18-15-2) heads into the Hockey East playoffs against Merrimack this weekend, giving Parker a chance to join Ron Mason and Green Line Rival Jerry York at Boston College as the only coaches in NCAA history to win 900 games.
“We’ve got games to play, and we’ve got practice tomorrow,” he said. “I don’t feel like I’m no longer the coach. It probably won’t hit me until October.”
After the season, Parker will remain with the university as an adviser to the president, helping with fundraising. It’s a skill he demonstrated when he helped build the Agganis Arena, which opened in 2005, as part of what athletic director Mike Lynch said was an athletic facilities overhaul that cost $250 million.
Parker will also consult on the selection of a replacement.
“I’d like to say it’s the best job in the country, primarily because of the guy to my left,” Lynch said. “And it hasn’t been open for a very long time.”
Other than that, and attending BU games with his grandchildren, Parker joked that he will “probably follow Mike Eruzione around.” The former BU captain, who scored the game-winning goal against the Soviet Union in the “Miracle on Ice” game, was one of four BU players on the 1980 U.S. team that won the Olympic gold medal.
“It will be really different looking down the bench and not seeking Jack there,” said Eruzione, who was also in attendance. “I remember taking such pride in being a Terrier because I knew what being a Terrier meant to Jack.”
In all, Parker has sent 23 players to the Olympics and 66 to the NHL, including Tony Amonte, John Cullen, Chris Drury, Mike Grier, Shawn McEachern, Rick Meagher, Jay Pandolfo, Keith Tkachuk and Scott Young.
“He’s been a mentor and coach to so many young men over his many years,” university president Robert Brown said. “That’s been an important part of his legacy.”
Heading into the Hockey East playoffs, Parker has a 894-471-115 record with 21 Beanpot titles and NCAA championships in 1978, 1995 and 2009. York, who played against Parker while growing up in the Boston area and has opposed him in the Hockey East, the Beanpot and the NCAA tournament, wished him well.
“We’ve competed against one another and we’ve coached against one another for a long, long time,” the BC coach said. “One of the greatest attributes about our relationship is that, although we’ve been in a competitive situation for such a long duration, we still maintain a unique personal relationship. From recruiting to coaching against one another in big games, we’ve maintained respect for one another. I’m grateful for that.”