Remembering John Brophy

Legendary hockey coach John Brophy died this morning.

In 2000, I wrote a profile of him for the Trenton Times. He was a fascinating person to talk to and learn about, because he basically had 2 personas. Hopefully you’ll like what I wrote.


Brophy: Love him or hate him

Author: MARK SIMON; Times sports writer

NORFOLK, Va. _ At the end of this story, you will either love John Brophy or you will hate him.


It is a requirement for anyone in the ECHL _ whether you be a fan, player, coach or media member _ to feel some sort of emotions towards this silver- haired 66-year-old man, a hockey legend.


To fully understand Brophy, you must comprehend the fact that there are seemingly two of him. There is the good Brophy, the one who gave us 45 minutes of his time and told us we could learn more from him if we had another five hours to spare. There is also the bad Brophy, the one who hasn’t spoken to one of the team’s beat reporters for nearly a month.


The good Brophy has enhanced the careers of hundreds of players that he has worked with in 27 seasons as a professional hockey coach including the past 11 with the Hampton Roads Admirals. Among those he has developed at various levels are former NHLers Rick Vaive, Rob Ramage, Craig Hartsburg, Guy Carbonneau, and current Washington Capitals goaltender Olaf Kolzig. The good Brophy has won more than 900 games, second in pro hockey to Scotty Bowman, and three ECHL championships, including one with an Admirals team that made the playoffs as the lowest seed in the Northern Conference. He is the winningest coach in ECHL history.


”He wants to win hockey games,” said former Admirals owner Blake Cullen, ”not for himself, but for the team and for the city. He has a total one-track focus. It’s good old-fashioned pride in the hockey sweater.”


THE GOOD Brophy is a master motivator, as good at getting his team to respond as anyone who has worked in the sport.


”He demands the most out of his players,” said current Hampton Roads captain Rich Kowalsky. ”He has changed a lot of players’  careers. He has an association with winning and he wants to win at all costs. He’s never had a player not give 100 percent. No one who has ever come here has coasted.”


”I’m interested in finding out how far a player can go,” said Brophy, who came to the Admirals after being fired from his dream job, coaching the Toronto Maple Leafs from 1987 to 1989. ”There is no secret (to motivating). Some players will do more then others. I’ll stay all day with them at the rink if they want. You can’t make a player in an hour-and-a-half (of practice). Most of our players don’t really know what they have to do to get better. You have to stick it down their throat.”


The bad Brophy has gone too far many times.


Earlier this season when he cut Shaun Peet (now with the South Carolina Stingrays), he made Peet throw his skates in the garbage in front of the entire team. He once took a jersey, dunked it in Gatorade and made a player wear it for a game. When an overweight Al Iafrate was coming up with the Maple Leafs, Brophy made him shed the excess pounds in a sauna _ in full uniform.


”The last thing I want to do,” the good Brophy said during our discussion, ”is tell a player he’s not good enough to do his job. I don’t ever try to disrespect a player. ”


”WHEN HE snaps, he snaps,” Kowalsky said. ”The guys learn not to get caught up in it. You can’t let him get you down.”


”It’s nothing personal,” Brophy said. ”It’s just hockey.”


Brophy-snaps are as legendary as the man himself. Those offended easily should not sit behind the Hampton Roads bench when the Admirals come to Trenton on Jan. 22. He can be mad when the Admirals win. He will be mad if the Admirals lose.


John Brophy,” said Virginian Pilot sportswriter Tris Wykes, who covers the Admirals and to whom Brophy hasn’t spoken since early December, ”is the most profane man I have ever met.”


In more than 20 years of minor league hockey, playing for teams like the Troy Uncle Sam Trojans of the Eastern League, Brophy set the minor league record for career penalty minutes. This was at a time when play resembled the bumble-and-rumble style from the famous hockey movie ”Slapshot.” An article in the Admirals game program describes him as ”an intense, and at times ruthless defenseman.”


Cullen heard Brophy once tell a story where he found out that one of the players on an opposing team was a Mormon, who refused to play on Sunday.


The player was finally persuaded to play against Brophy’s team that Sunday by his coach. At the opening faceoff for that game, Brophy took his stick and smashed it against the player’s leg. ”You,” he said to the player, who was writhing in pain on the ice, ”picked the wrong Sunday.”


IF YOU detest him at this point, you’re not the only one.


Around the league, particularly in Roanoke and Richmond (which played its 100th game against the Brophy-coached Admirals last Sunday), fans and even opposing coaches have gone at it with Brophy, both verbally and physically.


”Those opinions,” the good Brophy said of his detractors, ”have nothing to do with how I am. I don’t mean to come off as a stupid guy.”


Taunting the bad Brophy is a big mistake. He has attempted to go after fans in the stands many times, one time even tossing a hacksaw blade at a would be heckler (he missed). He has been reprimanded, suspended and even arrested for his actions during games.


”Sometimes,” the good Brophy said, ”you do things you wish you could have back.”

Which brings us back to that Brophy, the one whom Wykes said is wonderfully polite around women, little children and animals. The one that Cullen said would lie down in front of a zamboni for his players. This is a man who loves his wife, former LPGA golfer Nancy White and who treat his three dogs Novie, Scotia (whom were named after Brophy’s birthplace, Nova Scotia) and Mud Duck like royalty. He used to let those dogs go out on the ice after practice and shovel up dog poop himself after they had relieved themselves.


The fans of Hampton Roads revere him like a god. He could have left many times but never did. When Brophy was hired, he requested that a clause enabling him to leave for a higher-level position be removed from his contract so that he could totally focus on this team. The people here will miss him dearly should he not end up coaching the Admirals when they move up to the American Hockey League next season.


”John,” Cullen said of a man he considers to be a lifelong friend, ”has had more to do with the growth and the success of the ECHL then any other individual. There is nobody like him.”

The little boy and the book

Once upon a time there was a little boy. The little boy wasn’t very good at sports, and others often made fun of this, but he liked sports. He liked sports a lot, because when he liked something, he usually liked it a lot.

The little boy wasn’t good at sports, but he liked to write. He liked to write even before he knew how to write. The little boy would go with his mom on the bus and see things and if an idea popped into his head, he’d tell her to write it down. If she didn’t write it down, he’d repeat it, over and over again. Once the little boy learned to write, he’d write things down himself. He still does. A lot.

The little boy didn’t just like to write. He liked to read. He liked stories and newspaper articles. The little boy was reading the newspaper when he was five. He tended to gravitate to the box scores and the statistics.

The little boy also liked books.  And he didn’t just read books. He’d read them with intensity. When the little boy’s fourth-grade class went away for a few days and others went on outdoor adventures, the little boy pulled out his “Mel Martin” baseball books, sat on his bed and read. If a class had a substitute teacher, the little boy put a book on his lap, put his head on the desk, and read for over an hour without so much as looking up.

The little boy also liked math, from the time he would play with his grandma’s adding machine in her house in Elmont. Growing up, he was always a step ahead of the others in his class. When they were adding, he was multiplying.  When they were subtracting, he was dividing.

For whatever reason, numbers came easy to the little boy. When he was seven, he got a book called The Bill James Baseball Abstract. It had a lot of complicated math, and the little boy didn’t know what to do with it. But he liked the book anyway, because it was about sports and it was about numbers.

Fast forward through life a little bit. The little boy was lucky. He went to a good high school and a good college and got a lot of practice at what he wanted to do. He eventually got to be a sportswriter and a sportscaster and a researcher, which allowed him to write, read,  do math and talk, all at the same time. People thought he was  good at what he did. They liked his articles, his broadcasts and his research. And he liked that people liked him and liked his work.

Now the little boy has written a book. In the book, he looked a lot up, he wrote a lot down,  he did a lot of math and most importantly, he told a lot of stories.  He’s really excited about the book and he really hopes that you will be too.

You can buy “The Yankees Index” at this link or at an online retailer or bookstore near you.

The little boy photo

Frequently Asked Questions about “The Yankees Index”

Yankees book
My Yankees book (published by Triumph Books) is available for pre-order.

Frequently Asked Questions About “The Yankees Index”

How can I purchase the book?
You can find it at or other common online outlets where books are sold. It will also be available in bookstores (both chain and independent) throughout the tri-state area.

How did you come to write a Yankees book?
I had previously proofread and fact-checked books for Tim Kurkjian, Buster Olney and Jayson Stark. Jayson put me in touch with management at Triumph Books, and I told them I would like to write a baseball book someday. They promised to get back in touch.

They kept their promise. I heard from them about 9 months later. They were looking for someone to write a stat/history-based book on the Yankees. I expressed interest and we were able to make a deal.

How long did it take you to do?
I started writing in February 2015 and finished about 10 days ahead of the deadline at the end of September. It took a little while to get going, but I established a writing routine of doing about 90 minutes of work per day if I was working, and anywhere from that long to 6 hours if I wasn’t.

The fun part was looking up tidbits in the newspapers and doing interviews with players and others close to the team. The most challenging part was transcribing those interviews.

How did you decide where to start?

The first chapter I did was on Ron Guidry. That was my “audition,” which thankfully was quickly approved. I did Guidry because I wanted to do something that wasn’t Ruth, DiMaggio or Mattingly, but was still important.

Once I got started, I made a list of everything that I thought should be in the book. The original list probably numbered close to 100. I made it a point to include things that people might not know about, like Slow Joe Doyle’s shutout record. I went page by page through the Elias Book of Baseball Records to try to find things like that.

And then I just picked off the subjects that interested me on that particular day. Some days I was in the mood for Babe Ruth. Some, I was in the mood to call a player.

Who was your favorite interview?
Every interview was fun in its own way, but my two favorites were Dr. Bobby Brown and Aaron Small.

Bobby Brown is 90, but if you talked to him, you’d think he was 60. He was super-sharp and every story he told about the 1950s Yankees checked out. I’d heard him speak at a SABR convention and he was awesome. He was just as good when I got him.

Aaron Small was very humbled by the idea that I wanted to do a chapter on him in a book that was mostly about megastar players like Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle and Jeter. He was so nice and his story is so interesting and remarkable.

The most nervous I was for an interview was for Don Mattingly, who I got for about 10 minutes. Funny anecdote: I was driving on a highway when he called. I never talk on the phone when I’m driving, so I pushed the speakerphone button and screamed out: “Mr. Mattingly, Mr. Mattingly….please, please please hold on. I’m pulling off an exit and I’ll be about 30 seconds.”

I thought he was going to hang up, but he didn’t. He said “Sure. Not a problem at all.”

It’s good to know Don Mattingly is a courteous human.

What makes your book distinct?
The official historian of MLB, John Thorn, gave me a great answer for that: It’s a book of new takes on old tales. Just about every Yankees story has been told in some way, shape or form. This book does it a little differently. It uses a combination of numbers and words to illustrate greatness and provide historical context. I also dug up some perspectives that haven’t been shared often.

Additionally, this is a very reader-friendly book: There are a lot of charts, graphs and visuals to complement the writing.

I also think it makes for great bathroom reading. You can read the chapters in whatever order you wish. They’re all short.

How did you decide what to include and what to cut?

I started by writing about just about everything on my list. The book was intended to have a 65,000 word count. My first draft was 85,000 words. So I looked over what I had and cut things that were of lesser significance. But I didn’t eliminate them. I turned them into the short blurbs you’ll see at the end of a lot of chapters.

Are you a Yankees fan?
I am not. But I like baseball, I like stories, I like numbers, and I respect the Yankees history and tradition.

Do you have advice for anyone writing a book?
A couple things:

1) Don’t do it for the money

2)Write about a topic you’re passionate about

3)Come up with either a gameplan or outline that you can stick to over however long you have to write it.

Do you plan to write another book?
I do. The only thing I’ll say is that I think it will be a Mets book.

My website