College Sports: The Last Days of the Program Coach

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College Sports: The Last Days of the Program Coach
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Boston University's Jack Parker is retiring after 40 years as the Terriers' coach.

Mainstream college sports are a business these days (well, not for the players of course, but everybody else is making a mint).  This means that, among other things, a school’s supporters should not grow too attached to the coaches within their athletics department.

There is no “perfect job.” 

Chip Kelly had the might of Nike at his disposal at Oregon and therefore all the money he would ever need, but the NFL came calling.  Nick Saban jumped ship at LSU to go to the Miami Dolphins and then back to the SEC West.  Steve Spurrier was lured away from Florida.  His Florida.

The program coach—the guy who would build a program to prominence and then guide that program through to his retirement—is a thing of the past today.  It’s just something to reminisce about. 

The final sendoff to those longstanding greats came today when Boston University’s Jack Parker announced that this will be his final season as the Terriers hockey coach.

How intertwined is Jack Parker with BU hockey?  Well, consider that Mike Eruzione and Jim Craig, of Miracle On Ice fame, were Boston University hockey players, yet the name most hockey fans associate first with BU is still that of Parker.  

Parker managed to keep Boston University near the top of the college hockey world for 40 years.  He also played at BU.  The rink at Agganis Arena was designed at his request (it was Parker who wanted Agganis to have the same dimensions as the slightly-wider-than-average rink at Northeastern’s Matthews Arena). 

It’s also named after him.

Boston University is one of four schools involved with the Beanpot tournament.  Only four.  In his 40 seasons as a BU coach, the Terriers have won 21 of those tournaments (add in three as a player, and he has a Beanpot title for every hour of the day).  There’s a reason people call it, “the Jack Parker Invitational.” 

They also won three national titles under Parker (1978, 1995, 2009) and seven Hockey East banners.  

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Any celebration of Parker’s career might be incomplete, though, without lamenting the end of the program-coach era.  Oh, just down Commonwealth Avenue Jerry York is firmly entrenched in his office, but it’s only a matter of time before college hockey’s winningest coach retires as well.  

Just like that, that’ll be it.  Lights out.  Time to install the revolving door.

The program coach has been going the way of the dodo for many years.  Woody Hayes went too far and couldn’t un-ring the bell.  Bobby Knight crossed lines and then stubbornly refused to go back over them.  Roy Williams left Kansas for North Carolina. 

John Wooden has passed on. 

Joe Paterno’s “great experiment” was undone by a lack of control.  

What’s left are a few guys coaching out the end of fantastic strings.  We’ll still get to watch Jim Boeheim coach the Syracuse Orange for a little while, but the clock is ticking.  Coach K doesn’t look like he’s been coaching for a very long time, but he certainly has.  

Will Texas allow Mack Brown to stick around until he retires?  Most people would suggest he needs to keep winning.  Les Miles often talks about how committed he is to Louisiana State University, but that doesn’t stop the “rumor mill” from asking him questions about openings elsewhere—especially when Michigan is looking.

Will the coaches stay around long enough?  Often, these days, it’s tempting to move on to the pro game or another job in college sports that is somehow more attractive.  

Will schools keep coaches around?  Patience is a virtue in short supply around the nation’s athletics departments.  For a major program to stick with a program coach, that means hanging on when they’re on a rough patch and fans are starting to grumble.

Sooner or later, a program will stop winning for a little bit, and that usually creates enough pressure to get a coach fired (for example, if Notre Dame goes back to their mediocrity after their return to glory in 2012, Brian Kelly will find that fond memories don’t ensure much in sports). 

In the meanwhile, colleges might need to resort to making academic professors the face of their institutions.  Time to stock up on window cleaner.  Revolving doors get covered with hand prints in a hurry.

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