Tim Taylor, 71; led Olympic team, top coach for Yale
That Tim Taylor brought a stately intelligence to hockey surprised no one. Educated at Harvard, he became the winningest hockey coach at Yale University, an English major spinning the X’s and O’s of playmaking into a victorious narrative in many a year.
“I just always thought I’d be a teacher, a coach, from a point in my young life,” Mr. Taylor told the Globe in 1994, when he took time away from Yale to coach the US Olympic men’s hockey team. “I just thought it would be a fun existence. And what can I say – I’ve made it my life.”
It was no accident if anyone saw something professorial in his presence as he guided his players on and off the ice.
“He was one of those guys who was a real teacher,” said Ben Smith, a former head hockey coach at Northeastern University. “He was a teacher-coach, and he was in it for the long haul, teaching and preparing young people how to become adults, and it just happened that his classroom was the ice hall.”
Mr. Taylor, whose honors included thrice being named Eastern College Athletic Conference coach of the year, an award that now bears his name, died Saturday in Connecticut Hospice in Branford, Conn., about four years after being diagnosed with prostate cancer. He was 71 and lived in Guilford, Conn.
“He had this quality about him of integrity and of doing things the right way, a sense
of discipline and hard work,” said his youngest brother, Benjamin, a former publisher and chairman of the Globe. “I think I learned a great deal from him, and I can’t tell you how lucky I feel to have been his brother.”
A gifted athlete, Mr. Taylor was captain of the hockey team at Milton Academy and captain of the Ivy League champion team his senior year at Harvard, from which he graduated in 1963. After he almost made the 1964 Olympic squad, the Olympics became a life goal he realized first as an assistant coach for the 1984 hockey team and then as head coach in 1994.
He was Yale’s coach from 1976 until 2006, and his 337 victories were the most posted by a hockey coach at the university. Mr. Taylor brought the team to the ECAC playoffs 19 times, including once to the championship. He coached six Ivy League champion teams and was named ECAC coach of the year in 1987, ’92, and ’98.
Mr. Taylor played on the US National Team in 1965 and 1967 and subsequently became its head coach, leading Team USA in 1991 to its best finish in the Canada Cup. In 2006, USA Hockey presented him its Distinguished Achievement Award.
“You couldn’t possibly go overboard praising this guy,” said Jack Parker, who recently retired after 40 years as head hockey coach at Boston University. “The thing that made Timmy a great coach was his knowledge of the game, but the thing that made him special, I think, was that he was a great guy. He was a sincere guy; he was a guy you could bank on. I think he was one of the most fair guys you could ever meet.”
Born in Boston, Timothy Blake Taylor grew up in South Natick, the second of four brothers. Although he excelled at all sports, Mr. Taylor was drawn to hockey even as a boy skating on the frozen Charles River.
“I think he loved the hand-eye coordination that’s part of the game,” his brother said. “He had terrific hands. He could make that nice soft pass and help his teammates score. I think he loved the teamwork and the passing and the ability, at very fast speeds, to make a puck do what you wanted it to do.”
Their father, John I. Taylor, was president of the Globe, but Mr. Taylor never really considered a newspaper career.
“There were enough Taylors around, so that they didn’t need me in the business,” he told The New York Times in 1994. “It wasn’t rebellion.”
Turning to coaching hockey in his 20s, Mr. Taylor spent seven years as an assistant at Harvard before Yale named him head coach in 1976. Early in his career, he helped create a youth hockey program in Greater Boston. After Yale, he worked in various capacities for the US National Junior Team and was in Russia a couple of months before his death, helping to guide yet one more generation of players.
“He was kind of hockey’s version of Johnny Appleseed,” Smith said. “It wasn’t just Milton or Natick or Boston; it was Massachusetts; it was the United States of America; it was international hockey. He touched every level of the sport. He’s been a treasure.”
Mr. Taylor formerly was married to Amy Gibbons Taylor, with whom he had two children: Justin Taylor of Chicago and Leah Van Ness Taylor of Hailey, Idaho.
“Obviously I’m biased because he’s my dad, but even if I weren’t his son, I’d still think he was honestly the greatest man I’ve met in my life,” his son said. “He was the only one I would ever go to for advice, the only one I really bothered with any of the toughest situations I’ve ever gone through, and he always had good answers.”
While at Yale, Mr. Taylor met Diana Cooke, an admissions officer who became the liaison to the hockey team. They married a decade ago and were a couple for more than 20 years.
Learning early on that she had never been to a hockey game, he left her tickets all season to see the Bulldogs play, but she was even more impressed at his compassion for his players, and his love of his children.
“I think that might be when I began to fall in love with him,” she said. “It didn’t take long at all for me to learn that he loved his kids in a way that a busy father doesn’t often do. His heart was so full of love for his two kids.”
In addition to his wife, two children, and brother, Mr. Taylor leaves two other brothers, John of Boulder, Colo., and David of Jamaica Plain; a stepdaughter, Elizabeth Bashawaty of Middlebury, Conn.; a stepson, Tim Caputo of West Newton; a grandson; and seven step-grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held at noon June 1 in Memorial Church in Harvard Yard in Cambridge.
Throughout his life and career, Mr. Taylor “wanted to be sure he made a contribution that was bigger than himself,” his wife said.
“He wanted to feel that in some small way he made the world a better place for others,” she said. “And sometimes he would tell me that he didn’t see his role as being only a father or only a coach. His motivation for the amount of hours he put into his passion was that there had to be a purpose to our lives that was bigger than we as individuals. And I feel from the letters I’ve received that he accomplished that.”