Longevity is not often a trait associated with college athletics these days. Loyalty perhaps is even more of a reach, but at Boston University, Jack Parker has been the definition of both.
Perhaps that is why Monday's announcement and preceding reports that BU's head hockey coach of 40 years said he was finally stepping aside at the end of the season caught many in the hockey community a touch off guard.
Parker, who announced his looming retirement on his 68th birthday, ranks third all-time in college hockey with 894 victories, but is unique in that all of those wins came at one school.
Parker also guided the Terriers to three national titles and 11 conference championships between Hockey East and the ECAC. Also of import for any Boston-area school, Parker helped lead his alma mater to 21 Beanpot titles.
“It's time,” Parker told a packed room, also noting that 48 of his last 49 years have been spent in some capacity at Boston University.
A legend by any measure, Parker has been a big part of the advancement of Division I college hockey and has been one of the most influential voices in the game. Perhaps most importantly, he has made a large impact on many of his players, whether it be helping them develop into NHL players or not.
The list of current and former NHLers who excelled under Parker's tutelage is a long one. It includes stars like 500-goal scorer Keith Tkachuk, Chris Drury and Tony Amonte, as well as current players St. Louis Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk and Nashville Predators forward Colin Wilson.
Parker also coached four members of the fabled Miracle on Ice team including captain Mike Eruzione, goalie Jim Craig, Dave Silk and Jack O'Callahan.
“I like to refer to BU as a family,” Parker said. “I have two daughters and 226 sons.”
While Parker's legacy is cemented with his record and titles, the last few years have been notably trying. After two players were arrested last season on sexual assault charges, the university launched a task force to investigate the increasingly troubled hockey program.
The task force found earlier this year that the program had a “culture of sexual entitlement.” The finding resulted in Parker having to step down from his position as executive director of the athletics department and a series of other “corrective measures” instituted by the university.
The disciplinary stumbles of the program will leave a mark on Parker's otherwise remarkable legacy. It's certainly more than a footnote, but is unlikely to define Parker's time at BU.
“It was a trying time,” said Parker in regards to last season and the aftermath. Parker also admitted that he had planned to retire after last year, but felt it wouldn't be right to leave under those circumstances.
Among other major contributions as a coach, Parker has become actively involved in Autism Speaks, creating a partnership between his team and the nonprofit organization that helps raise autism awareness. The Terrier players have Autism Speaks puzzle piece patches on their jerseys and participate in many events with the organization.
Additionally, Parker was an instrumental figure in the life of Travis Roy, the BU freshman who was rendered a paraplegic after going head-first into the boards just 11 seconds into his college career. Roy is now a motivational speaker and co-authored the popular book Eleven Seconds. Parker noted that the hockey community's response to Roy and his program in the aftermath of Roy's injury is one of his fondest memories in hockey.
Parker's retirement also signifies the end of one of the great coaching rivalries in all of sports. Parker and Boston College's Jerry York have been going head to head the past 19 seasons, but the rivalry extends all the way back to their high school days playing for opposite Boston-area schools. They are two of the top three winningest coaches in college hockey history, with York vaulting to the top of the list this year.
The duo has shown that rivalry doesn't have to mean disdain as the two are good friends off the ice. It's that kind of sportsmanship that is all too rare in sports.
Parker is not quite done yet. He will lead the Terriers into the Hockey East tournament Friday as BU takes on Merrimack, so there's probably going to be plenty of motivation for his squad these last few weeks of the season.
There were good and bad times at Boston University and while the last two years were trying, Parker is still among the most respected individuals in the game of hockey.
Unquestionably, Parker's longevity, success and contributions to the game make him one of the great coaches in the history of the NCAA.