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Friday, August 15, 2003
Legendary coach also a caring father

Associated Press

BIRCHWOOD VILLAGE, Minn. -- The late Herb Brooks was known to his hockey players as a stern coach who pushed them to greatness in college, the pros and the Olympics -- but to his son, Brooks was a caring father and grandfather who loved his garden.

"He's this stoic figure,'' said his son, Danny, while receiving a parade of well-wishers at his father's well-appointed home earlier this week. "But sometimes he'd be off in a room with his five grandkids, on the floor on his hands and knees playing horsey. Someone would come and tap us on the shoulder and say, 'Look at this.' "

Danny, 36, smiles at the memory.

Herb Brooks, 66, died Monday when his minivan veered off Interstate 35 just north of the Twin Cities into the median. The van flipped and he was ejected. Brooks was not wearing his seat belt. Law enforcement authorities are investigating the accident.

"Icons, they all seem to go young,'' Danny Brooks said. He mentioned former New York Yankees player and manager Billy Martin, who died in 1989 in an auto accident. He was 61. "Billy Martin -- he and my dad had so many parallels. My dad adored Billy Martin.''

"Babe Ruth,'' he said, "and John Mariucci -- John died relatively young. He was my dad's idol. John's death was very hard on my dad; that's why he went to St. Cloud State.''

After a four-year stint as coach of the New York Rangers, Brooks came to St. Cloud in 1986 to carry on the mission of Mariucci, the Minnesota hockey legend who was dying of cancer. That mission was to expand the Division I game beyond the only existing programs at the time -- Minnesota and Minnesota-Duluth. He was paid barely $20,000 for the job.

Brooks "put every cent back into the program,'' St. Cloud State Athletics Director Morris Kurtz recalled this week.

St. Cloud's move opened the Division I door for Mankato State (now Minnesota State) and Bemidji State to follow.

"That was John Mariucci's wish, to put St. Cloud State on the map,'' Danny Brooks said. "Without that, there probably wouldn't have been Mankato.''

The secluded, flower-lined back yard where Danny Brooks sat became a refuge for his father after his parents moved from a home on a lake in Shoreview a few years ago.

"He loves to garden, he loves to be outside,'' the son said. "He loves to work with his hands.''

Danny says his father's secret wish was to work as a tree trimmer, possibly one reason so many blue-collar people could relate to the man whose image swelled after his hockey teams won three national championships for the University of Minnesota and a gold medal in the 1980 Winter Olympics.

"He was this two-tiered type of guy,'' Danny said. "He was a public figure, and he was a father and a grandfather.''