There was not a precise timeline for Jerry York, no milestone he needed to achieve, before the legendary men’s hockey coach would decide to retire.
“I’ll know when it’s time to hang up the skates,” York thought.
That day came on Wednesday, when the Boston College coach called it a career, having amassed an NCAA record 1,123 wins in 50 seasons, the last 28 for BC.
He coached the Eagles to nine Hockey East tournament titles and 12 regular-season championships, and was named Hockey East Coach of the Year in 2004, 2011, 2014, 2018, and 2021. He led Boston College to the men’s national championship four times. More accolades might have followed after the 2019-20 season in which the Eagles were the top seed entering the conference tournament, but the season came to an abrupt end because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
York, 76, had considered the idea of stepping down after BC’s season concluded on March 12 with a 3-2 loss at Northeastern. He sat down with his wife, Bobbie, in recent weeks to talk it over, and he decided it was time.
After consulting with athletic director Pat Kraft, he would break the news on Wednesday, first in an emotional meeting with his coaching staff in the morning, and then to his players that afternoon.
“The hardest part was talking to my staff this morning,” said York. “We’re expanding so much now with equipment guys, hockey ops, weight training, trainers, assistant coaches. It affects a lot of people. That was kind of an emotional time.”
It was while meeting with the players that he realized it was his last time addressing them in a locker room.
“Unless I come back in 30 days like Tom Brady,” York joked.
He began his head coaching career at Clarkson University in 1972 at 27 before moving on to Bowling Green in 1979, where stayed for 15 seasons and won a national title before returning to his alma mater to coach BC in 1994.
“All three schools really embraced hockey,” said York. “I really cut my teeth at Clarkson, learned how to coach. Bowling Green really sharpened my skills. I had some terrific players at both schools.”
His return to Chestnut Hill in 1994 would be a perfect fit, even if the beginning was imperfect. The men’s hockey program was in rough shape, with the school parting ways with Steve Cedorchuk after the 1993-94 season, then hiring Mike Milbury. Just two months later, Milbury abruptly resigned, and BC was left scrambling for a coach in June.
York was not fazed. The chance to come back to BC, where he played for Snooks Kelley and won the Walter Brown Award in 1967 for the top American-born player in New England, was a dream come true. York still remembers the summer night he toured the campus with athletic director Chet Gladchuk and school president J. Donald Monan.
“Father Monan said, ‘We’d like you to be the next coach at Boston College,’” said York. “That’s the benchmark, the milestone, to grow up around here playing hockey at BC, and then to be offered the job.”
Despite being a few steps behind in the recruiting season, he would have the Eagles playing in the national championship game by the end of his fourth season, losing to Michigan in overtime at the FleetCenter. Two more trips to the Frozen Four would follow before BC broke through for its first title since 1949 with an overtime win over North Dakota in 2001.
Three more titles would follow at BC, along with numerous records, including surpassing Michigan State coach Ron Mason’s record of 924 wins in 2012. York also became the fifth college coach to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2019, but the only one who never coached in the NHL. Last December, he was inducted into the US Hockey Hall of Fame.
He leaves big skates to fill. York said he’d be happy to be a resource when it comes to finding his successor, but believes Kraft should make the pick. He did state that associate head coaches Mike Ayers and Brendan Buckley deserve serious consideration.
He learned from former UNH coach Dick Umile it will be best if he stays away from the program next year to let the new coach develop a routine. Plus it will give York a chance to travel.
“I wouldn’t mind going out to see a game at North Dakota or Denver. Make that a destination,” said York. “I love college hockey that much, that would be kind of fun.”
The golf clubs have yet to come down from the attic, but will soon.
“Hopefully my short game will get a little better,” he said.
But there will be no farewell tour for York, who was not about to announce his retirement ahead of his final season.
“I’d never want to go through a season where each games someone’s giving you a chair, or a watch, and then they’re going to try and beat your brains out 10 minutes later,” said York. “It’s not my make-up.
“The game’s the game. Now, if someone wants to send Bobbie and I to Hawaii, we’ll entertain that thought.”
Follow Andrew Mahoney on Twitter @GlobeMahoney.