Norm Parker, the only defensive coordinator Kirk Ferentz has had in 13 years at Iowa, is stepping down.
In keeping with the 70-year-old Parker’s style, there was no goodbye press conference, just a release that highlighted the career of a journeyman who found a home at the end.
Parker will step down after the Insight Bowl matchup with Iowa (7-5) against Oklahoma (9-3).
“I would like to announce that the 2011 Insight Bowl will be my last game as a football coach at Iowa,” Parker said in a release. “I would like to personally thank Gary Barta, Kirk Ferentz, the coaches, and players at Iowa, along with the fantastic fans. It has been a great time, one that myself and my entire family greatly appreciate. I would also like to thank the office staff, the equipment people, and a special thanks to the medical staff, as I used them enough. The entire Hawkeye community has been great.
“My wife Linda, and all the members of our family, were very pleased to be members of the Hawkeye family. We truly enjoyed our time here. After 48 years of doing something I love, it is time to enjoy some time with the grandkids. Go Hawks!”
Ferentz added, “Norm’s contributions to our team the past 13 years are deeply appreciated, as he has had a tremendous impact on our program. As I have said publicly on many occasions, Norm is a superb defensive coach and has served as a strong role model and mentor for all of our players and our entire staff.”
Parker’s story the last three seasons included time in the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in 2009, then, at the beginning of the 2010 season, losing part of his right leg to amputation because of a long battle with diabetes. Since then, getting around hasn’t been easy.
Parker has negotiated Big Ten press boxes this season with the help of a student assistant and graduate assistant. He didn’t like the fuss. You could see that on his face.
Thus, Sunday’s announcement, which comes less that three weeks before the Hawkeyes (7-5) Insight Bowl appearance against No. 19 Oklahoma (9-3).
Parker’s first coaching job was head coach at St. John’s High School in Ypsilanti, Mich., in 1965. He came to Iowa after three years at Vanderbilt. He spent 12 years at Michigan State (1983-94). He also had stops at East Carolina, Illinois, Minnesota, Wake Forest and Eastern Michigan.
Parker, who Ferentz handed his defense to without blinking back in ’98, was a fan favorite.
Before the Wisconsin game at Kinnick in 2010, more than 6,000 people joined a Facebook group to encourage Parker in his fight against diabetes.
The group’s mission is for Iowa fans to chant “Norm, Norm, Norm,” on every third down Wisconsin face.
“I think that’s great. He deserves it,” former Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn said. “That’s pretty cool.”
As you might imagine Parker’s players held a huge amount of respect and admiration for their coach. Before the 2006 Outback Bowl, Iowa’s linebackers had a T-shirt of “Normisms” made up.
“Million dollars waiting on a dime!” “Run like a scalded-a** dog!” “Dancing Bears! Elephants on parade!”
The idea for the T-shirt came from Chad Greenway and Abdul Hodge, former Iowa linebackers.
“I think it means they’re comfortable, they’re not afraid to tease me,” Parker said then. “I always tell them when we have our linebacker meetings, ‘I’m not interested in being in a room with a bunch of sad sacks.’ Life’s too short to walk around with a frown on your face.”
(Spring ’09, I asked Norm Parker what keeps him going.)
Parker has coached from a golf cart for a number of years, including one in Arizona last December that was fashioned to resemble a Lincoln Town car. Parker hasn’t been on the recruiting trail for several years.
When Parker had his leg amputated last season, he was away from the team from Sept. 10 to Oct. 29. The players were told what was going on with Parker’s health, but still, they didn’t know what to think when they first saw him without part of his right leg from just under the knee down. It was at the Crowne Plaza in Cedar Rapids hotel the night before the Michigan State game.
Players kind of froze.
“Coach Parker was the first one to smile and say, ‘Hey guys, I’m fine, I’m all right and I’m going to make it through this,’” senior defensive end Broderick Binns said. “Seeing an old guy go through that and come back walking around, saying, ‘Guys don’t worry, I’ll be fine’, that goes a long way with young players like myself.”
One of the biggest reasons Ferentz hired Parker was the life he’s lived. We’re talking beyond the hirings and firings of an assistant coach. Parker lost a son, Jeff, who died in 2004 after complications from a number of strokes. Jeff, who had Down syndrome, was 33.
“I’ve grown a lot from what he’s had to say,” senior defensive tackle Mike Daniels said. “He’s been doing it so long, he has his ways. It’s hard to explain. He’ll give you a football lesson which is a life lesson. He’ll give you a life lesson which is a football lesson. He knows what he’s doing.”
Parker’s connection with the players is something Ferentz marveled at.
“I’ve been around coaches who as they get older have a tough time communicating,” Ferentz said of Parker. “I never thought it was age-related; I thought it was people-related.
“That has always been one of his strengths and it’s one of the things he does as a defensive coordinator or just in talking to people. He has a way — usually, in a very concise way — of getting to what is important and saying it in a way that can be entertaining.
“But, there’s usually a pretty good message. If you listen closely, there’s usually a pretty good story.”
Ferentz discussed Parker’s future prior to the Nebraska game. Ferentz didn’t address the topic directly, as you might imagine with the Hawkeyes in the midst of preparing for Nebraska.
“I can just tell you he is doing so much better than last year,” said Ferentz, who referred to 2010 as the “season from hell” for Parker. “Every day he’s been here. Every hour he’s been here. It’s really a great turnaround from a year ago.”
The last time Parker spoke on the topic was August.
“I hope when the day comes when I can’t do it anymore, I have enough brains to say that’s it,” he said.
This will be the first time in his 13 seasons as Iowa’s head coach that Ferentz will have to replace a coordinator.
It’s difficult to say where Ferentz will go. In early November, Ferentz shot down a rumor that had former Hawkeye defensive back and former Arizona coach Mike Stoops coming to Iowa.
“Dan McCarney’s not available?” Ferentz responded to the question. “. . . I hadn’t been thinking about that one. I don’t respond to that stuff.”
Parker’s absence was felt by the other defensive coaches in 2010. Secondary coach Phil Parker, linebackers coach Darrell Wilson and D-line coach Rick Kaczenski have had chances to impress their boss.
Phil Parker was an all-Big Ten safety at Michigan State while Norm Parker coached there.
“Norm has a great knack for watching regular games and seeing the problems and the issues that we could have,” Phil Parker said. “Give him a half of a day, he’ll find the issues that we’re going to have to make sure we touch on.”
Said Kaczenski, “We’re still trying to pick Norm’s brain. We’re trying to figure out how Norm sees the game. We’re also trying to think like him. He’s that calming voice, the guy who always has the answer. We might have suggestions, but Norm has all the answers. He’s seen a lot of things.
“He’ll put you at ease. It gives you a confidence, not only in his ability, but also gives you confidence in your ability.”
Here’s the release from UI sports info:
NORM PARKER ANNOUNCES RETIREMENT
IOWA CITY, IOWA – - University of Iowa Defensive Coordinator Norm Parker announced Sunday that he will retire following Iowa’s appearance in the 2011 Insight Bowl in Tempe, Ariz. The Hawkeyes (7-5) will meet Oklahoma on Friday, Dec. 30 (9 p.m. CT, ESPN) at Arizona State’s Sun Devil Stadium.
In a prepared statement, Parker said the following: “I would like to announce that the 2011 Insight Bowl will be my last game as a football coach at Iowa. I would like to personally thank Gary Barta, Kirk Ferentz, the coaches, and players at Iowa, along with the fantastic fans. It has been a great time, one that myself and my entire family greatly appreciate. I would also like to thank the office staff, the equipment people, and a special thanks to the medical staff, as I used them enough. The entire Hawkeye community has been great.
My wife Linda, and all the members of our family, were very pleased to be members of the Hawkeye family. We truly enjoyed our time here. After 48 years of doing something I love, it is time to enjoy some time with the grandkids. Go Hawks!”
“Norm’s contributions to our team the past 13 years are deeply appreciated, as he has had a tremendous impact on our program,” said Iowa Head Football Coach Kirk Ferentz. “As I have said publicly on many occasions, Norm is a superb defensive coach and has served as a strong role model and mentor for all of our players and our entire staff.”
Parker is completing his 13th year as Iowa’s defensive coordinator. Following the 2011 season, Parker was named Assistant Coach of the Year by the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA). He will be honored at the AFCA national convention, January 8-11, in San Antonio, Tex. He was a finalist for the Frank Broyles Assistant Coach of the Year Award in 2004 and 2005.
Under Parker’s direction, Iowa has ranked among the top 10 nationally in rushing defense five times. Iowa has been in the top 10 in scoring defense three of the past four seasons. In 2010, Iowa was fifth nationally in total defense (332.1), sixth in rushing defense (101.5) and seventh in scoring defense (17.0).
Under Parker’s direction, the Iowa defense is regarded as one of the most physical, hard-hitting units in the Big Ten and the nation. The Hawkeyes have been bowl eligible in each of the last 11 seasons and have been ranked in the final top 10 of both major polls four times in the past 10 seasons.
Iowa has won 85 games over the past 10 seasons, including 50 Big Ten games. The Hawkeyes earned a share of the Big Ten title in both 2002 and 2004 and tied for second in 2009.
Parker began coaching on the collegiate level at Eastern Michigan in 1968 after beginning his coaching career in the high school ranks for three seasons. He also coached at Wake Forest, Minnesota, Illinois, East Carolina, Michigan State and Vanderbilt before becoming Iowa’s defensive coordinator under Ferentz.
Norm Parker’s Coaching Career
Iowa DC, 2008-present
Iowa DC, LB, 1999-2007
Vanderbilt DC, LB, 1996-97
Michigan State DC, OLB, 1990-94
East Carolina DC, 1980-82
Illinois OLB, 1977-79
Minnesota DL, 1972-76
Wake Forest TE, WR, 1969-71
Eastern Michigan OL, 1968
St. John’s (MI) HS HC, 1965-67