5:06 PM EST, February 8, 2013
For years, Bruce Marshall dreamed of his players' receiving athletic scholarships. For years, he dreamed of UConn's upgrading its hockey program and joining the elite schools in his sport.
"But it's like when you're playing Wiffle ball and you want to hit the home run at Fenway," Marshall said on a happy summer afternoon in the XL Center atrium. "You dream."
Yet even as UConn held its downtown celebration to announce a long-awaited move to Hockey East on June 29, festivities that included a major supporter in Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Marshall had already entered a behavioral pattern that would end his 25-year coaching career at the state university. Earlier this week, he said he hadn't envisioned then that he would take a leave of absence on Nov. 6 and resign on Jan. 7, but a dream clearly was unraveling and ultimately he decided to stop it before his life became a total nightmare.
"I was fired up for UConn hockey that day," Marshall said. "But you always evaluate yourself at different times."
On July 11, less than two weeks after Marshall posed for photographers with Malloy and UConn President Susan Herbst, documents from Superior Court at Rockville show that Marshall's wife, Kathy, filed papers for divorce.
When the school announced in early November that Marshall would take a personal medical leave of absence, it came one day after a case management agreement for the divorce was filed. UConn would not disclose the nature of Marshall's problems at that time.
Sitting in an area coffee shop this week, Marshall confirmed that he underwent alcohol rehabilitation.
"I made a decision that I needed to take a step back and reassess what was important in my life," Marshall said. "Obviously, a career, but more importantly my health, my family and taking care of my kids. Would July 1 have been better? You know, in the end it doesn't matter when you make that decision to get your hands around something."
"I made the decision, let's attack it. Let's get after it. I needed to go somewhere to get back to my real core values. I took some time to address my challenges instead of trying to get through the season and crashing. I took control of it. It was something I didn't want to become astronomical."
In early January, when Marshall told his team and the school announced in a press release that he was resigning after a quarter century, no further information was given. The resignation came about the time that Marshall initially was expected to return to the UConn bench.
The resignation also came only a few days after an uncontested hearing ended Bruce and Kathy Marshall's marriage and Judge Lawrence Klazczak approved the settlement agreement, one that cited a marriage that had "broken down irretrievably." Marshall said the corresponding dates of his divorce and his leave of absence and resignation were purely coincidental.
Marshall married Kathy Kloss on July 1, 1995, in Falmouth, Mass. He played hockey at UConn, was co-captain of the 1984-85 Huskies who qualified for the ECAC playoffs for the first time and graduated in 1985. She played field hockey at UConn from 1984-86 before graduating in 1987. Together they have four children.
According to the settlement agreement, the two have joint custody, and a well-mapped weekly schedule demonstrates that they are splitting parental rights. Although there is no alimony, Bruce Marshall is paying $287 a week in child support. Kathy is a teacher at Tolland High School.
Marshall said he was not pressured by the school to resign because of personal issues or because the school could be looking for a new coach heading into Hockey East in 2014. UConn sources confirm that Marshall was not punished in any way and that his decision to retire was his own.
"This was a Bruce Marshall decision, what was best for my family," he said. "There was no pressure whatsoever. I was looking at myself, asking, where do I want to be four-five years from now? I had full support of the athletic department and the administration to address what I needed to address. During that time, it gave me more time to be with my family. I have kids that go from 8 to 16, and I had been doing this all-out since I was 25."
"I was able to go to a middle school basketball game. I actually tied my daughter's skates and didn't have to say I'll pick you up in an hour because I have to meet a recruit. I'm making great strides here and I want to continue these strides. Jumping right back into the fire may not be the way to make great strides. This is a chance for a new beginning. And with the support of the university, Kathy and the kids, I'm going to take this new beginning. I'm 50. Maybe the next 25 years I do something else. It's a positive opportunity."
Taking the UConn job in 1988, Marshall saw the Huskies through their move to Division I in 1998, winning the MAAC title in 2000. Before his resignation, Marshall ranked 12th among active coaches in career wins with 337.
"People say, 'You've got Hockey East coming, you've got this coming.' If we hadn't done what we did the last 25 years, it might not have happened," Marshall said. "I'm pretty comfortable saying the program is in a pretty good spot and I'm excited for someone else to have their turn and reach the fruit of what everyone has done."
Assistant coach Dave Berard took over for Marshall in November and will serve as the coach for the remainder of the season. A national search will take place after the season for a head coach. Asked who he thought should succeed him, Marshall thought about potential candidates, laughed and said. "I can't answer that one. Sorry. Do you know how many alums I have coaching college hockey? I need Christmas cards."
Since he left, Marshall said he hasn't attended UConn games or been around the team.
"I remember Jim Calhoun came to talk to our team a couple of years ago when we were struggling," Marshall said. "He was great. He looked the guys in the eye and said, 'This is your team. This is your season.' I'm letting them control their team, their season. Believe me, I follow them. I'm pulling for them every day."
As far as his future, Marshall says he met with lots of people, people in the business world, UConn alums. He could turn to the preps, to secondary schools, to coach and educate again.
"Where do you take your skill set?" Marshall said. "Twenty five years and people think you're like [Coach Comet] in 'Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer' with a whistle around your neck. You do a heck of lot more."
"Look, when we were driving in those vans to play North Adams State, we were thinking, 'We're UConn.' We always wanted to play Yale, always wanted to play the best. Now it's here, great. It's perfect. I don't feel left behind. I feel as if I was part of it. I feel we got them there. I hope people can respect that I was dealing with — what do you call them? — the demons. I'm doing great with it. It was something I needed to do. I want to be happy the next 25 years of my life."
Sitting there, smiling, full of optimism, Bruce Marshall looked good. He said he feels great. He deserves to be happy.
Copyright © 2013, The Hartford Courant