He's baaack: Herb Brooks leaves sales for pro hockey

Asked last spring why he was leaving the business world and returning to hockey, Herb Brooks reportedly said, "There's only so much toilet paper you can sell."

Though Brooks now says the quote is a little more colorful than his actual words, it's a line that might be repeated often if his new job as coach of the American Hockey League's Utica Devils becomes his springboard back to the NHL.


Or it might fade into oblivion, as did this former legend in the making when his coaching career stalled after he was fired by the New York Rangers and Minnesota North Stars.

"After Minnesota, I said I'd never coach again," Brooks, 53, recalled this week as the 3-3-2 Devils prepared for a three-game trip that will take them to Baltimore tomorrow and Sunday. "Time has a way of healing all wounds."


It has been a long road back for a man who came into America's consciousness as a gold-medal-winning coach of the 1980 United States Olympic team. It is a road filled with a few burned bridges and some fractured friendships.

One of those who stayed in touch with Brooks after he left the NHL four years ago was Devils president Lou Lamoriello. They have been friends since Brooks coached at the University of Minnesota and Lamoriello was the coach and later athletic director at Providence College.

"We were looking to strengthen our organization in every area, especially developing our young talent," said Lamoriello, who hired Brooks last summer, shortly after bringing back former Devils (and Washington Capitals) coach Tom McVie from Utica to New Jersey at the end of last season. "I didn't think of anyone who would be better for that than Herb Brooks."

Asked if it was difficult to get Brooks to return to coaching, Lamoriello said: "Herb is a hockey person. That's been his life. That's what he's best at."

Far from the bright lights of Broadway, or even Bloomington, Brooks is starting over.

It has not been as big an adjustment for Brooks as some might think. Minor-league hockey is several steps below the NHL, its teams often second-class operations compared with top Division hockey programs such as the one Brooks ran at the University of Minnesota and the one at St. Cloud University that he helped bring from Division III to I.

"There's none [of an adjustment] at all," said Brooks, who inherited the youngest team in the league -- and perhaps the youngest in organized hockey -- with a dozen first-year pros on the roster.

"First of all, the American Hockey League has a real rich tradition, really good players, coaches and management. It's a very good league. I'm happy to be back in coaching."


Brooks said he enjoyed the business world and his jobs as a salesman for a nationally known ring company and for a paper-products company based in Minneapolis-St. Paul.

The only job he disliked was the year he spent as a hockey analyst for SportsChannel America. "It was frustrating. It was kind of hard for me. It drove me nuts," he said. "It was a tough decision to leave the paper business. But I go way back with Lou. I believe in him. I know what he's doing."

Said Lamoriello: "Herb is a very knowledgeable guy. He wants to do things a certain way, and he wants something he can believe it. Under no circumstances do I feel that Herb is looking left or right. He has a mission, and that mission is to develop these kids. Right now, that's all he's concerned with. I don't think he's LTC looking back. I think he's looking ahead."