Friday, 11 December 2009

I'm Not Tony Dungy

If it isn't apparent, I'm not Tony Dungy. I have never coached a football game in my life. I don't know Peyton Manning, but I have once been in the same city as him. I certainly don't work for NBC, and, if you know me, you know that I really don't like the NFL. I know: gasp! However, Tony Dungy's recent comments regarding college football programs and their apparent disregard in hiring African-American men as head coaches got me thinking. There have been a plethora of great men who have played hockey who represent the African-American community in the NHL, but that hasn't transformed into a number of head coaching jobs. In fact, there has been only one African-American head coach who has won an accolade at the professional level. And that's shocking.

It takes a pretty good understanding of the game to move into the coaching ranks. Normally, coaches are former players at some level who have stepped behind the bench. Otherwise, they are long-time coaches - men who have perfected their craft at a lower level before moving up the ladder to new challenges. In both cases, these men have worked hard at their trade, earning the respect of their peers and players along the way.

So who was the first African-American or African-Canadian coach to win a major award, and where did he get his start? If you can believe this, the first African-American or African-Canadian coach in any major professional league was John Paris Jr. who coached the IHL's Atlanta Knights in 1993-94 to the IHL Turner Cup Championship.

Mr. Paris was born in Windsor, Nova Scotia into a hockey-loving family. His father, John "Buster" Paris Sr., was an amateur standout with the Windsor Bulldogs in the 1930s. John Paris Sr. became a father to John Jr. and his brothers, all of whom enjoyed the sport that their father excelled at in the 1930s.

John Paris Jr. was an undersized winger, small in stature but good enough to play major junior hockey. He spent the 1966-67 season with the Quebec Aces, a team that had produced some other notable hockey stars. Mr. Paris was recruited by Scotty Bowman and the Montreal Canadiens, putting him on a path that seemed bound for glory.

After spending the '66-67 season in Quebec, Paris made the jump to the EHL for the 1967-68 season and joined the Knoxville Knights. However, Paris' small frame made playing physical hockey in a minor-pro league a little tough. Paris stands at a miniscule 5'5", hardly the big physical wingers that dominated the minor leagues during the late-1960s. Nine games after the season started, Paris called it quits with just two penalty minutes to his name. Not exactly the best finish to a season or a career, but it's the last time that John Paris Jr. would skate in any North American league.

Fast forward to 1989-90, and John Paris Jr. surfaces as the head coach with the Granby Bisons in the QMJHL. Over parts of three seasons with the Bisons, Paris amassed a record of 50-57-9. He moved on to coach the St. Jean Lynx in 1992-93 in the QMJHL as well, putting up a 35-32-5 record. This was good enough for the management of the IHL's Atlanta Knights to notice him and hand him the reins to the Atlanta Fire Ants roller hockey team in the upstart Roller Hockey International league.

After one season in Atlanta, the Fire Ants were relocated to Oklahoma City, and Paris was given an assistant coaching job with the IHL's Atlanta Knights. Coaching alongside former Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Gene Ubriaco gave Paris good insight on how to run a hockey team professionally. With the Knights being the minor-league affiliate of the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning, it was only a matter of time before Ubriaco was summoned back to the highest level.

With 17 games remaining in the regular season, Ubriaco was made the chief scout for the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Knights' management decided that the best man to take over the team for the rest of the season was John Paris Jr. In the remaining 17 games, Paris coached the Knights to a 9-5-3 record, ending the season as the top team in the Midwest Division with a 45-22-14 record. The Knights swept the Milwaukee Admirals in Round One, and then swept the San Diego Gulls in Round Two to advance to the Turner Cup Final.

The Fort Wayne Komets were the Knights' opponents in the Final. It took the Knights six games to eliminate the Komets, but John Paris Jr. led the Atlanta hockey team to its first professional hockey title as the Knights captured the Turner Cup on home ice. With that win, Paris also became the first African-Canadian hockey coach to lead his team to a professional championship.

After a couple of lackluster seasons with the Knights resulting in his firing, John Paris Jr. was hired by the expansion Macon Whoopee of the CHL to be their first head coach and general manager.

Pretty cool stuff, right? Today, you can find John Paris Jr. coaching at his hockey school. He holds a Master's Degree in Sports Psychology, and has his Level-IV Coaching Certification from USA Hockey and an Advanced Canadian Coaching Certificate. His resume, to be honest, is impressive, and his list of achievements and accolades is highly decorated.

If there ever was an excellent role model for younger African-American and Adrican-Canadian people who were interested in coaching hockey, Mr. John Paris Jr. would be that role model. His story is inspiring, and his achievements are incredible. That is the kind of role model that anyone can and should look up to when needing an example of an upstanding citizen.

Congratulations to Mr. John Paris Jr. on his past successes, and I wish him nothing but the absolute best in his continuing and future endeavours!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!


Love_the_Game said...

Good article. It's always great to read about blacks doing great things.

Your article references Paris as being African American, but isn't he African Canadian?

Teebz said...

That is entirely correct. I've made the changes to reflect that.

Good catch on my mistake!