Norm Parker 1941-2014
Known for solid, ferocious defenses, Parker also had great wit
Former Iowa defensive coordinator Norm Parker has died. He was 72.
Parker served as Iowa's defensive coordinator from 1999 through the 2011 season. During Parker's final three seasons, he fought diabetic complications that saw him lose part of his right leg to amputation at the beginning of the 2010 season. He retired from the Hawkeyes after the 2011 Insight Bowl.
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 was stricken with an illness late Sunday evening and passed away Monday morning at University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics.
“Norm played a major and key role in any on the field success we experienced during his 13 years as our defensive coordinator,” Iowa head football coach Kirk Ferentz said in a statement. “More important and valuable, is the strong and positive impact that he had on our players, staff, support staff and fans – everyone he interfaced with during his 15 years in Iowa.
“Norm was an excellent football coach. Beyond that, he was a tremendous spouse, father and cherished friend to many.”
Parker is survived by his wife, Linda, children Chelly, Joyce, Jim and Suzy, and six grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his first wife, Ginger, and son, Jeffrey. Funeral services are pending in Michigan. A memorial service will be held in Iowa City at a later date. Memorial contributions may be made to Special Olympics, or may be directed to The Norm ParkerAthletic Scholarship Fund, c/o The University of Iowa Foundation, PO Box 4550, Iowa City, IA 52244-4550.
Several Hawkeyes players wished their best via Twitter when the news started to break Monday morning.
"Sad to wake up and hear about Norm," former Hawkeye and now Tampa Bay Buccaneer defensive end Adrian Clayborn wrote on Twitter. "He was a great man and coach. His talks were the best."
"An amazing coach and an even better person," former Iowa wide receiver Donny Nordmann posted on Twitter. "Taught so many the true meaning of being a man."
Former Iowa defensive tackle Matt Kroul recalled a famous Parker quote on accountability. "Boys do what they want to do, Men do what they need to do," Kroul wrote on Twitter. "One of greatest men I've ever known."
Former Iowa offensive lineman and Philadelphia Eagles offensive lineman Julian Vandervelde posted, "Sad to hear of the passing of Norm Parker. A real legend, he did as much to shape the identity of Iowa football as anyone. RIP, coach."
Parker's defenses definitely shaped some of the more successful seasons during Ferentz's era.
Under Parker, Iowa ranked among the top 10 in the nation in rushing defense four times. Iowa was in the top 10 in scoring defense in in 2008 and 2009. Iowa's 2004 Big Ten co-championship team was built on defense. The Hawkeyes ranked fifth nationally in rushing defense (92.5), sixth in turnover margin (+1.08), 11th in total defense (293.8) and 16th in scoring defense (17.6). The Hawkeyes led the Big Ten in rushing defense and turnover margin and led the league in red zone defense.
"Norm Parker was one of my all-time favorite people and coaches,” Iowa athletics director Gary Barta said in a statement. “He was a brilliant defensive coordinator, and his players loved him. He knew how to win football games, but more importantly, he knew how to make you feel good and to laugh. He will truly be missed."
When Parker had his leg amputated in 2010, 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 Hotel in Cedar Rapids the night before the Michigan State game.
Players kind of froze. Parker actually broke the ice with a joke.
"I wish I remembered that joke," former Iowa cornerback and Green Bay Packer Micah Hyde said. "Everyone just started laughing. It made the whole environment peaceful instead of all tense. I wish I knew what he said. It was pretty funny, though."
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," former Iowa defensive tackle and Green Bay Packer 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."
Ferentz was asked once if Parker was on his own timetable for retirement. He said the topic hasn't been discussed.
"I've been around coaches who as they get older have a tough time communicating," Ferentz said. "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."
Parker, who Ferentz handed his defense to without blinking back in '98, also 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.
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!"
"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."
Norm Parker obituary