By Len Bardsley
The Times of Trenton
John Marks could have been a banker following his 12-year NHL career.
He took a job a lot more rewarding for a lot less.
Marks started his career behind the bench as an assistant coach for his alma-mater, North Dakota, in 1983 following a 657-game NHL career.
The Greenville Grrrowl coach still is going strong 22 years later, and has the most wins of any active coach in professional hockey with Marks had 413 victories in the ECHL and 653 overall.
Marks spent his NHL downtime working for a bank, and he’s still pretty good with numbers.
His starting salary at North Dakota was $14,000 (he turned down a job at his bank for $35,000), and his total NHL salary, including a signing bonus as a first-round draft pick in 1968, was $685,000.
You can guess his take on the current situation of the NHL.
“Players today on the fourth line getting four minutes a game are getting $600,000 a year,” he said. “If someone wants to whine to me about money and the salary they are making they are barking to the wrong guy. I believe the players should respect the game and be thankful for what they have gotten. I believe the players have it great.”
Marks gave up the possibility of dealing with dollars decades ago. He is thriving in his attempt to push players to the next level while putting together a record number of wins.
“I love it,” said Marks. “I love what I do. I think it is the best sport in the world and I love going to work in the morning. It is a fun job.”
Marks has won ECHL championships with Charlotte in 1996 and with the Grrrowl in 2002, but is coming off the kind of frustrating season that would make any normal 56-year-old consider early retirement.
Last season, Marks and the Grrrowl set a league record with 53 losses.
“The bottom line was we were not good enough,” said Marks. “I was proud of the hockey team and the players we had here. We competed and we played hard. We lost 43 games by one goal.” Marks knew the Greenville franchise – which amazingly only saw its average attendance dip by 700 during its dismal season – could not afford a repeat performance.
The improvement started with a dual NHL affiliation with the Chicago Blackhawks and the Edmonton Oilers, ensuring the Grrrowl would get a roster filled with American Hockey League-caliber players. Marks brought back only one player from last season, Jason Metcalfe, who was a minus-27 last season, but now is a plus-20 in 51 games.
Despite a roster that made the Grrrowl the ECHL coaches’ pick to win the East Division, they lost their first five games.
“I didn’t panic,” said Marks. “I felt we had a pretty good hockey club. The year we won in Charlotte we were 0-6 with 14 rookies and when we won it all in Greenville we were not .500 until 20 games into the season. I am never too concerned with the start, more with the finish.”
The Grrrowl have more than doubled their point total from last season.
Marks and his commitment to bringing the winning back to Greenville was the main reason Colin Pepperall signed on for his third stint with the Grrrowl. Pepperall won the Kelly Cup with the Grrrowl in 2002.
“He is a players’ coach who has been there. He has seen all types of coaches and coached all types of players. He does not try to change a player’s game. He allows his players to develop and be the players they should be.”