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Boston College Head Coach Job is a Homecoming for Greg Brown

BC Men’s Hockey // Twitter

If there were only three words to describe newly-appointed Boston College men’s hockey coach Greg Brown during our conversation on a sunny Friday afternoon, they would be: humbled, excited, happy.

As we spoke, it was clear how much it means to Brown to be taking over this team from his mentor, former Boston College men’s hockey coach Jerry York. When York announced his retirement on April 13, 2022, the legend left behind a storied 50-year career in college hockey, including 28 years at Boston College. Naturally, speculation quickly began on who would step into the head coaching role next — different names were thrown around, pros and cons lists were created, but there seemed to always be one man whose name continually surfaced: Greg Brown.

Alum support was also in full force — especially on social media — which Brown says was very humbling: “You know, you put in the time and the effort to try and help everybody, so whether it was your teammates, or the guys that played for us, under Jerry, when they reached out that meant a lot to me.”

Brown played for the Eagles in the 80s and early 90s, serving as team captain in 1990, and was associate head coach under Coach York from 2004-2018. Boston College also runs through the Brown family — Brown’s brother Doug played at BC from 1982-1986, and Brown’s two children attended BC (his daughter graduating in 2020 while his son graduated this past spring in 2022). Brown was also able to coach his two nephews, Patrick and Chris, who played for Coach York between 2010-2014 and 2015-2019 respectively. ”Both were enjoyable to coach because they’re good kids and work hard,” he says. “They were both captains on the team, so that was a great treat for me.”

In 2018, Brown took an opportunity to serve as an assistant coach for the New York Rangers under then-head coach David Quinn, pulling him away from the Heights after 14 years. He spent three seasons behind the bench in the NHL, before serving as head coach for the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the USHL during the 2021-22 season. Speaking about what it’s like to be back at BC after this four year break, Brown says, “I was very excited when I got the opportunity to come back. You never know if it’s going to come back around again. I was thrilled when it did.”

Brown learned early on in his career that coaching was the long term path he wanted to follow. Hired by York in 2004 — 18 years ago — Brown thought he’d like coaching, but wasn’t 100% sure. “It didn’t take very long, probably into our first season, [before] I thought this would be the right path for me,” he says, citing the positive atmosphere that York cultivated at BC. It solidified the career decision for him, and set him down this path for years to come.

Of the 28 years that York coached at BC, Brown was around for half of it. He knows he can’t go into this season with the mindset of trying to replicate exactly what York did, but he believes he can forge his own path to success. “You have to be yourself and you can’t start to try and do what [Coach York] did. The duration of his legacy and the amount of success sets a goal so crazy high — at least I was fortunate enough to work with him for 14 years,” Brown explains. “I hope to use so much of what I learned from him to keep this program going on that path.”

He’s gotten to observe up close how York achieved all his success and got buy-in from the players, which Brown attributes to two big things York brought to the program: his positivity and inclusivity.

On York’s positivity, Brown says:

I think the biggest thing [I learned was] the positivity. You know, he did so much. So many good things, but the number one thing would be the positivity that he brought to the rink every day. Obviously, during every hockey season, you have lots of ups and downs. But he remained steadfastly positive through it. He never came in with his head down or worried about a bad loss the night before. It was just always going forward. Always pushing to get better. And I think, you know, I didn’t see that much of that throughout my hockey career. I was fortunate to play for a lot of great coaches. But none of them were so dedicated to keeping the energy positive, no matter what situation the team was in.

And about York’s inclusivity, Brown shares:

[Another] thing, I think, is his ability to include everybody. From the best player to the worst player to the managers, to the staff. Everybody was in the boat, and he made sure that everyone was on board. Everyone felt a part of it. I think that’s why people enjoy being in his program so much — because they knew they weren’t just taken for granted. Everyone had value, and he brought that value out of each person.

While he’s learned a lot from Jerry York, Brown also been fortunate to learn from other teams, including in the most elite hockey league in the world. Working with professional hockey players in the NHL opened his eyes to different ways to get things done and different ways to be effective. His experience in the USHL was Brown’s first as a head coach. “[The USHL] is a great development league, ” Brown shares. “[Being] the head coach and [taking] a little bit more of a broader view on the whole team and the whole game rather than just [working] with my specific defensemen or one special team was great experience before I came here.”

While in Dubuque, Brown would try and watch as many Boston College games as he could, though he admits that with the one-hour time difference and head coaching duties he was usually only able to catch a period here and there. It was hard, but he’d take the time to talk to Coaches Mike Ayers, Brendan Buckley, and York to catch up on games when he couldn’t watch in full. Nevertheless, there were nights where he’d be able to tell what kind of game BC would have based on the first period. “In the first periods I saw when I knew they were moving their feet and the transition game looked great, I thought oh, they’re going to have a good night tonight,” he explains, “And then if things got slower it’s like, oh, they’re going to have to grind it out to find another way to win.”

As head coach, Brown is hoping to maintain the same enthusiasm and positive energy that has been synonymous with Boston College men’s hockey over the years. “Players perform better when they feel good about themselves,” Brown says. His hope is to keep players feeling positive and excited to get to the rink, as this attitude translates to better on-ice play.

Brown emphasizes how good the off-ice culture was under Coach York and how he’d really like to keep that going. Part of this culture was because of York’s ability to get talented players to put the team ahead of the individual. Brown also believes that long term success comes from players putting the team above themselves and knows that this is something he’ll have to work to maintain.

Potentially playing spoiler to the team above individual mentality, however, is the promise of an NHL career, which Brown recognizes. The league is getting younger and younger, and teams need good players on entry-level contracts to stay under the salary cap. “That’s one of the absolute toughest parts of coaching,” he says. “For colleges, you want those great players, but you can’t have too many of them. If you have a bunch of classes that never get to senior year, then it’s really hard to win in college hockey.” He notes that BC has always tried to have a top end team in talent, but knows that there needs to be a good blend. “We’re going to try and find as good a blend as we can where we’re still having that top end talent, but also having good glue guys; team guys that will become juniors and seniors.”

Having coached young players for almost his entire career, Brown’s noticed some differences working with them now compared to his early years as a coach. It’s more relationship-based, less of a teacher-student dynamic. “There’s more give-and-take now,” Brown says. Players want to learn and get better, which has remained the same — they just want to know the why behind the feedback they’re receiving and how it will help them rather than just being told to change things.

Since Brown was away from BC for four years, he actually hasn’t coached any of the players on the BC roster — the current seniors started at BC in Brown’s second year with the Rangers. He was around to help with recruiting a couple of them, but he hadn’t gotten the chance to work directly with any of them. “[Senior captain] Marshall [Warren] has been great so far,” he says, “and the older kids told me when I got here that the culture was outstanding, which is not a shock to me.” He credits the upperclassmen on the team with getting him up to speed and filling him in on the personalities and the inner-workings of this year’s team. Brown also shares that Coaches Ayers and Buckley have helped him learn quickly on the job, saying that he feels “ahead of the bar in knowing what guys can do and what they’re good at” thanks to his support staff.

As for the hockey itself? Brown is hoping to coach more of a thorough, detailed game, without being stifling. He wants the players to be creative and make plays similar to the way they’d been encouraged to make plays under York. “I think Coach York and I saw the game in very similar light,” Brown shares, “so not a lot will change as far as the style of play.” It’s too early to determine the specifics, either offensively or defensively; the team will have to practice more often to figure out the systems that work for this group. But for now, the players are working on everything, as you would with any new head coach. Even though Brown is aiming to have the overall style of play stay relatively similar, he’s leaving no stone unturned as practices start getting underway.

The Eagles are entering a new era with Greg Brown at the helm. A lot has changed in the past four years — “it’s only been four years, but it feels like longer,” he notes.

“But the hockey part,” he says with a smile, “the hockey part hasn’t changed too much.”

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