David Quinn walked to the sofa in his new office at Agganis Arena, surveying the room. The vast and beautifully adorned space was the former home to legend Jack Parker, who retired after coaching 40 seasons at Boston University.
“I haven’t gotten used to it yet,’’ said Quinn with a laugh.
But Quinn is more than at home at his alma mater. He was named as Parker’s successor on March 26, during a whirlwind period when he was still serving an assistant coach with the Colorado Avalanche.
That job followed a head coaching stint in the American Hockey League with Colorado affiliate Lake Erie.
Quinn was the associate head coach at BU from 2004-09 in 2009, helping the Terriers win the NCAA title. He said going away for a while made it easier to come home because of what he learned.
“I loved pro hockey, it was an incredible coaching experience and I’m a much better coach because of it, but I did miss the other aspects of what college coaching brings — helping [student-athletes] along through their academic responsibilities, helping them through their social responsibilities,’’ said Quinn. “You don’t have those relationships at the pro level that you have at the collegiate level. There is so much to this job.’’
The Cranston, R.I., native, who turned 47 in July, said juggling multiple roles appeals to him. He acknowledges he has to be part father figure, part teacher, part psychiatrist, part friend, and part mentor as well as disciplinarian.
Coaching wasn’t always his dream but when fate closes a door, very often it opens a window.
A great skater, Quinn was a first-round draft pick in 1984 when Minnesota chose him No. 13 overall, four spots before Kevin Hatcher and 38 spots higher than Patrick Roy.
His playing career at BU was fraught with injuries that manifested themselves in bruising and swelling. That led to him being diagnosed with a rare form of hemophilia known as Christmas disease.
Quinn said he didn’t spend much time wondering “what if.’’
“I did at one point but I would never change what’s happened to me,’’ said Quinn. “I’m incredibly lucky. Obviously, when you’re 20 years old and you have your playing career taken away from you, it’s a big jolt, but I love coaching. I would never change my life because I really love coaching. With my disease, my college career was a tough one because I was always hurt. It was frustrating.’’
Quinn was diagnosed after his sophomore year and didn’t know what a hematologist was before he went to get his blood checked.
“I made peace with it probably a year or two after [the diagnosis],’’ he said. “I played my junior year after I got diagnosed. I signed a waiver and I missed half the season with an internal thigh bruise.’’
That summer, two weeks prior to the Olympic Festival for the 1988 Olympics, he suffered an ankle sprain playing basketball, which nearly proved fatal.
“I was in the hospital for five weeks and I almost bled to death,’’ said Quinn, who had five operations during that time. “That was the end. That’s when I realized it was crazy and I couldn’t play anymore.’’
There was a comeback of sorts four years later, when he became part of a drug protocol that gave him injections for the clotting.
“I weighed 247 pounds at the time,’’ said Quinn. “I dropped about 40 pounds and tried out for the 1992 Olympic team and got cut in January. Then I went and played a year and a half of minor league hockey. I was grateful for the opportunity.’’
Ben Smith presented Quinn with what he termed the break of a lifetime — a job as an assistant coach at Northeastern in 1995-96. He took to coaching right away.
“I was 26 when I got hired at Northeastern and I knew that was what I wanted to do,’’ he said.
When he left BU after the 2009 season for the pros, there was a perception he made the change because he was tired of waiting for Parker to retire. Both Quinn and Parker said that wasn’t the case.
“The recruiting can get tiresome, it’s a tough job,’’ said Quinn. “The way things evolved with Colorado, we had had four Colorado draft picks while I was [associate head coach] so I got to know the organization well. When Joe Sacco got the [head coaching] job in Colorado, he called and offered me a job. It was really a fast process and it was really out of left field. Jack and I had conversations about his future and where I was at. We had just won the national title and I think Jack was feeling refreshed and rejuvenated, and I think it added a few more years to what his initial plan was.
“After the year we had, how do you top that? I’m no dummy, I understood the situation. It just really made a lot of sense for me. When you’re an assistant coach in college hockey, so much of it is recruiting. You’re a coach but you’re a recruiter first. I just felt that going to coach pro hockey was going to be an incredible opportunity as a coach to prove myself as a coach. I really enjoyed my time in the American League.’’
Parker said it was a matter of Quinn taking advantage of an opportunity.
“I think he left BU because he wanted to become a head coach,’’ said Parker. “I don’t think he was sitting around waiting for me to retire. He knew I was going to coach a few more years. He wanted to be a head coach so he took some different routes. He has quite a résumé.’’
When the BU hierarchy pondered Parker’s successor, Parker was not involved in the hiring process except that he reminded those making the decision that it needed to be a BU guy.
“There was talk that they wanted to interview non-BU players. I would’ve been very upset if it wasn’t one of my former players,’’ said Parker, who said the pool of BU alums qualified for the job was far from small. “Those types of things are important around here. They got themselves a great hockey coach in David Quinn. I’m ecstatic he got the job. He’s a great guy and he’ll do a great job. BU is much better off with David Quinn as the head coach today than if I was still there, I know that. I can see that in his energy and how hard he is working, and how he’s approaching the job. We have made a big step up in [the] hiring.’’
Parker said he’s available to be a resource for Quinn, but only if he is asked.
“I don’t want to be hanging around looking over the new coach’s shoulder,’’ said Parker. “I think that would be detrimental. I don’t think he’s going to need much advice. I think [the program] is in real good hands.’’
And Quinn can’t wait for the puck drop to start the season Friday night against Massachusetts at Agganis to start the new era.
“Our seniors have really taken control of our team,’’ said Quinn, who encouraged them to do that. “I said, ‘You need to feel ownership, this is your last kick at the can.’ We have 10 newcomers and that’s why they needed to step [up] and boy, have they ever.
“The next five years are going to be interesting in college hockey because there have been so many changes. It’s going to be interesting to see which leagues really survive, which leagues thrive, and which leagues struggle. I think [Hockey East] is really in a position to blossom in the next five years.’’Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at email@example.com.