BOSTON — David Quinn doesn’t have the luxury of a grace period.
Most first-year head coaches get the benefit of the doubt in their debut season, since it’s only the first step in a large building project.
But most first-year head coaches aren’t replacing a legend of the game, whose success is nearly unparalleled, nor are they taking the reins of a program steeped in tradition with a rabid following.
Then again, Quinn (Cranston, R.I.) isn’t exactly new to Boston University. He saw that tradition firsthand as a player, and worked directly under that legend, Jack Parker (Somerville, Mass.), who announced his retirement in March following 40 years of coaching the Terriers.
Quinn was in Cleveland, coaching the American Hockey League’s Lake Erie Monsters, when he got a call from old friend Mike Bavis (Roslindale, Mass.), who had been an assistant with Quinn, on a Sunday afternoon.
“He said, ‘There’s gonna be a press conference tomorrow afternoon, and Jack’s retiring,’ ” Quinn said after a recent BU practice. “I was kind of shocked. Jack had been mentioning for the last four or five years — ‘maybe one more year, maybe one more year.’ As much as I knew eventually it was going to happen, it kind of shocked me.”
Quinn wasn’t the only one. Parker’s name is synonymous with college hockey, particularly in New England, and while he had reached the age of 68 and achieved just about everything there is for a college coach to achieve, the sight of anyone but Parker being behind the bench at BU was hard for anyone to imagine.
“I think it was definitely sad to see Coach Parker retiring,” said senior Garrett Noonan (Norfolk, Mass.), the co-captain of this year’s team along with fellow senior defenseman Patrick MacGregor (Hamden, Conn.). “Everyone has such great feelings for him; everyone really loves him as a guy and as a coach. When we found out he was retiring, it was kind of bittersweet, I guess. You’re happy he gets to spend time with his family, but at the same time you loved playing for him, and you never know what happens with a new coach.”
Indeed, as the shock wore off, the questions came on: Who would take Parker’s place? Who could step in for one of the pre-eminent names in the game, and not wilt under the pressure? Would it be Bavis? Would it be Quinn? Would it be, almost unthinkably, someone from outside the BU universe?
It didn’t take long for BU to find the answer. Two weeks after a packed room at Agganis Arena watched Parker announce the end of his coaching career, Quinn was announced as his successor.
A Terrier defenseman from 1984-88, Quinn earned All-Hockey East and All-New England honors in his senior year. After the diagnosis of a blood disorder ended his playing career before he could join the Minnesota North Stars, who drafted him 13th overall in 1984, Quinn turned to coaching. He spent time with Northeastern and Nebraska-Omaha before going to the U.S. National Team Development Program. He returned to his alma mater to become Parker’s assistant in 2004 and was instrumental in recruiting the 2009 national championship team.
Following the Terriers’ NCAA title, Quinn left to take the Lake Erie job. At the time, it was generally accepted that he and Bavis were the heirs to Parker’s throne, that one of them would take over when Parker finally hung up his whistle. But Quinn said he couldn’t worry about missing out on that opportunity.
“In this profession, you cannot plan out your next job,” he said. “You can’t angle, or map out a perfect path to a job that you may want, or your ideal job. You have to do the best job you can at the job you have, and if the opportunity presents itself to make you a better coach, I think you take it and do the best job you can at that.”
In the years since Quinn’s departure, there’s been a good deal of turmoil on Commonwealth Ave. Two players were kicked off the team after being charged with sexual assault — standout forward Corey Trivino ended up pleading guilty to assault charges, while the charges against Max Nicastro were dropped — leading to the formation of a task force that identified a “culture of sexual entitlement” among the players, and included sordid details about parties involving the team.
It was hard, Quinn said, to watch things unfold from afar.
“Very frustrating,” he said. “When you’re coaching kids of that age, it’s very unfortunate that those incidences happen, and you feel very bad for all parties involved. But to say that Jack … that this place was ‘Animal House,’ anyone who’s been here knows that couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s so not what Jack is about. It really was unfortunate, more than anything.”
The task force also recommended a series of new regulations involving the team, including sexual assault prevention training and formal communication between the program and the school’s administration.
“A lot of the rules that were put into place, a lot of the conclusions the task force came to, a lot of it was obvious stuff,” Quinn said. “There’s some little changes, but I’m not being more of a disciplinarian or holding players more accountable in other areas of their life because of a task force — that’s how I would do it anyway.”
Quinn didn’t inherit a troubled hockey team, however. By the time Parker retired, the players involved in the scandal were long gone, and BU’s cupboard had been restocked. That showed in the early throes of this 2013-14 season, during which the Terriers got off to a 3-1 start that included a 7-3 beating of nationally ranked Wisconsin.
At the head of the class are Noonan and MacGregor.
“I think it’s very important that you can rely on somebody,” Parker said. “I know that Noonan is a very popular guy, but he’s also considered a very important leader by this team. And he has to be, because he’s been so important over the years, he’s got so much ice time. The MacGregor pick as co-captain is a great pick as well by the team, because he’s a kid that’s really earned his spot here, worked hard to get where he’s at. He’s somebody that people can look up to, somebody that they can relate to.”
Noonan said he recognizes the role of a captain is heightened when there’s a new face in the head coach’s office. For that, Quinn is grateful.
“This thing has run itself so far,” Quinn said. “These guys have done such a good job. I talk to the players about how things are going, and it’s really been a smooth marriage so far. This is a ‘we’ thing; we’re all in this together. Our seniors have been great, and MacGregor and Noonan are incredible.”
What has also eased the transition is the fact that Quinn is, as Parker said, “a BU guy.” He was partly responsible for the way the team was run when he was an assistant, so even if his voice is a new one to the players on this year’s team, his methods aren’t all that unfamiliar.
“I’ve seen a number of practices, and it looks very similar to the way we’ve been doing things the last few years,” Parker said.
That’s a good sign for Quinn, because BU isn’t really the kind of place where failure is accepted. While some coaches might ask for the leeway to bring in their own recruits and mold the program in their own vision, Quinn scoffs at the idea of waiting.
“I hear that in college sports a lot, you know, ‘Wait ’til I get my players here,’” he said. “You’re the BU hockey coach. The BU hockey players are your players. At the end of the day, you’re responsible for the BU hockey team. I’ve never thought any different. I think coaches make big mistakes when they think that way. I want to win right now. I’m not here to win in four years.”