There are Boston College guys and then there is Jerry York.
It would be safe to say that no college coach in the country in any sport is probably more secure or comfortable in his job than York, who is beginning his 19th season as the BC hockey coach.
York is a double Eagle–BC High, Boston College–he is married to a Boston College graduate and he is a Boston area kid, growing up in Watertown.
But that is just part of the story. Consider a 41 year coaching career, including the last 19 seasons at BC (after successful stops at Clarkson and Bowling Green) with 9 Hockey East titles, 10 Frozen Four Appearances and 4 national championships–2001, 2008, 2010 and 2012. With 917 victories, he is the second in all time career hockey victories and closing in on former Michigan State coach Ron Mason’s all time career record of 924 victories.
While BC might be struggling for even respectability in the other revenue producing sports, BC hockey is the equivalent of Alabama football and Duke, Kentucky and UCLA basketball.
With the 2012-2013 season just getting underway, ajerseyguy.com sat down with York to discuss the past, present and future of BC hockey.
Q. What’s it like for you to be the quintessential BC guy?
A. Bo (Former Michigan coach Bo Schembechler) always said he was a “Michigan man. But he went to Miami of Ohio and came back. And a lot of guys can morph themselves into a school. But it was much easier for me.
I dreamed of playing for Snooks Kelly (Legendary former BC hockey coach who ran the Eagle hockey program from 1932 to 1972) and being part of the Jesuit tradition. It’s part of my fabric. I didn’t have to learn about the traditions at BC.
That doesn’t necessarily mean you are going to be a long time coach at that school, but to me it makes it more enjoyable, more satisfying.
Q. It’s one thing to come back to your alma mater, but to come back and take it to the highest possible level. How satisfying has that been?
A. It’s been a lot of fun. I’ve really enjoyed it. It’s been fabulous. But to live it every day is special. And I try to stay right in the moment. I enjoy the atmosphere at BC. The student body. The administration. I just like being here. Everything about it, I embrace. I just love to come to work.
Q. What has changed here from the first time you came here as a student, to your first year as a head coach to now?
A. The school wasn’t nearly as residential when I came. A lot of us commuted. I commuted. The student body was mostly a New England type of school. The student body has really expanded. That’s a little bit different. The make-up of the student body. And the campus has evolved. Academic buildings, athletic facilities. But at its core, it’s still very similar to what it was when I was here in the 60′s (York graduated from BC with a B.A. in Business Administration in 1967).
Q. What’s BC’s core?
A. I think the respect the student body has for each other. The feeling that this is “my school”. I don’t want to be anywhere else. It’s hard to explain. It’s like there is a spirit on campus that you can feel it. I can’t really describe it. But there is something special when you come through the Com. Ave entrance. It’s not just athletics. I go out and visit the kids on campus and walk through the residence halls.
Q You still do that?
A. Yeah, I go out three or four times a year and visit.
Q. When you left here and went to Clarkson and began your coaching career. was it in the back of your head that you wanted to come back here and coach?
A. Oh, I always thought in the back of my mind it would be great to go back there and coach. But as I moved further and further away from my roots, it looked like it wasn’t going to happen. I did not get it (the job) when it was open a few times (Len Ceglarski and Steve Cedorchuk were the last two coaches hired before York arrive in June of 1994). I was more than content that I might not go back. But I would be lying to you if I said I didn’t think about going back home and coaching.
Q. What do you look for when you build a program?
A. I remember talking to (former BC President Father Donald Monan) the night I got hired in June of 1994. It was about 11 o’clock at night.( Former BC AD Chet Gladchuk) Chet brought me up to Father Monan’s residence and he said, Here’s the guy that’s going to make the decision.
I remember knocking on the door. One light was on. When we sat down and talked about the values of BC, he suggested that there is no reason that hockey players can’t leave here with a diploma in one hand and a (championship) ring in the other hand. I agreed with him. We went back and forth on it. I said I agree.
We had been a high-end program. I had seen other programs come down and come back up, but I thought it was realistic to come back up.
We had to win some recruiting battles. I thought it was paramount that we do that. At the time, we didn’t have a lot of scholarships, but I said we’ll stay with what we have and try to build the program from the ground up.
The next year, we recruited Marty Reasoner (in his 14th season in the National Hockey League with the New York Islanders). I thought the recruiting had to be upgraded. I thought we needed to get the same players that BU had, that Wisconsin had, that Minnesota had. That was the key thing. And then just work really hard. Make this a program that kids wanted to come back to, which they always had.
We had a lot of tradition to play on. Make sure we got the right player. You have to be the right person for here. Media attention and high expectations are part of it.
My idea was that we were going to play fast and you must have that mix of speed and skill and size and strength. But you have to be able to play in Boston. It’s not the easiest place to play. I had to make sure the kids knew they were going to be pushed that they were expected to change the whole dynamics of what was happening and get us back in the national race because we weren’t in the national race for a while.
Q. BC hockey has become like Alabama in football, every door must now be open to you?
A. No question. But we also have to identify the players and determine: is this a player who can leave his ego at the door? And not think about individual awards. I’m talking trophies, team Some players shy away from that aspect, which is understandable. They want to be a star and an individual.
Q. How do you win the battle of the kids who want to go to junior hockey and make it to the NHL that way?
A. Some you don’t. It’s up to the player. They are looking at both options. School, academics and college hockey isn’t for everybody. Some players are not that interested in school. But there are plenty of players that want to go to school, want to get a degree, but also want to pursue professional hockey.
Q. Where is the hockey bed of recruiting in this country?
A. It’s expanding all over. It used to be the three M’s: Massachusetts, Minnesota and Michigan. Now its New Jersey, New York, Phoenix, California. Anywhere there is an NHL franchise that has spawned some interest.
Q. Do you go into Canada very much?
A. We go into Canada. One or two a players a year we really go hard after are from Canada. We had a player from Finland. We have expanded our recruiting greatly over the years because the face of youth hockey is expanding. Now its players from all over the country, it’s amazing. I remember going into Buffalo looking at one player named Jeff Farkas, but then I was looking at a small little guy, Brian Gionta (now in his 11th season in the NHL and is the captain of the Montreal Canadiens. I said, “”Who the heck is this kid? I went down to the coach and said, Who is the younger kid? He said, “you noticed.” I said yeah, I noticed.
Q. In terms of being a BC guy, how much does it hurt you to see the drop off in success in other sports in recent years?
A. Everything is cyclical. I’m very optimistic we will make turns in football and basketball. It happens at other places. I just think we are going to be back. That’s the positive that I have in all things. But we need a (Matt) Ryan to choose BC in football. We need another Terry Driscoll to come around in basketball. It will come.
Q. It looks like new (New BC AD) Brad Bates will be a friend of BC hockey?
A. I have worked for seven athletic directors, liked them all. Brad, coming from Michigan, certainly knows the importance of hockey. He’s from Port Huron (Michigan) Maybe we will get some Port Huron hockey players.
BC will be just fine as long as it has the ultimate BC guy in Jerry York.© Copyright 2012 Mark, All rights Reserved. Written For: A Jersey Guy