Hawkeyes swarm Kinnick for Parker tribute
'Celebration of Life' is just that for longtime Iowa defensive coordinator
IOWA CITY — It was titled, appropriately, as a celebration of life.
It was held, appropriately, in Kinnick Stadium.
Norm Parker, Iowa’s football defensive coordinator for 13 years died on Jan. 13. He was 72. His funeral was in his Michigan home state.
Four months later, Hawkeyes coaches, former Iowa players, and Parker’s friends and family welcomed he chance to publicly speak about him in a public gathering. The comments were as warm as the day on which they were given.
“I call him my life coach,” said Iowa linebacking great Chad Greenway.
“The guy was just an encyclopedia of everything,” former Iowa assistant coach Eric Johnson said. “Football, life ... it was just a tremendous resource that we had.”
The recurring thread in the remarks of the 11 people who spoke was that, yes, Parker was a brilliant coach. But that was dwarfed by his bigger-picture thinking, the way he was devoted to his family, the priorities he put on convincing players to want to be part of something bigger than themselves.
“It was never about Norm,” Greenway said. “It never was. It always was about the program, his guys, the team, somebody, anybody other than himself.”
“Norm never taught us to be NFL players, none of us,” said Iowa linebackers coach LeVar Woods, who played for Parker here in 1999 and 2000.
“He taught us how to be better men, how to be successful men, successful husbands, brothers and fathers, contributors to society.”
Like Greenway, Aaron Kampman went from Iowa to NFL stardom. Kampman fondly recalled a conversation he had with Parker when Kampman was a college junior and a newlywed.
“I head into his office, knock on his door,” Kampman said. “There he is sitting behind his desk, dip in the lip, glasses down, watching film in that Iowa gear. ‘Kamp, come on in!’ He always had time for you.
“We were talking about football and the team, and he got to talking about marriage. He said ‘You want to know the secret to having a good, successful marriage?’
“ ‘Yeah, tell me. I really want to know.’
“He said ‘All right, here it is. You ready? Always say yes, ma’am, I’ll do whatever you want.’
“He’d get you laughing. But then he got serious and started telling me the key to life and the key to marriage was all about becoming more unselfish.”
Kampman said the more he has thought about that over the years, the more profound it has become to him.
Something that still rings in the ears of 8-year NFL veteran Greenway is a different kind of lesson he got from Parker.
“My sophomore year,” Greenway said, “I was a fairly new starter. We played over at Ohio State and took the (19-10) loss. Defensively, we played pretty well.
“I was sort of new to the media thing and getting to know how that worked. One reporter said ‘The defense played real good today, do you think you could have done anything else to win the game?’ I was like, no, being a dumb sophomore. ‘I think we played as good as we could have played, did all we could, we just didn’t get the win.’ “
Parker saw or heard that quote. The next day at the team’s defensive meeting, 10 minutes of film on Greenway awaited him and his teammates.
“A missed tackle, a missed opportunity, a missed assignment. I got the point right away. You can always do more.”
Johnson said one of Parker’s many favored expressions was “Everybody’s like a blade of grass. You’re either growing a little or dying a little every day. That’s how Norm lived every day, giving, giving, giving, pushing yourself through things.”
Johnson said Iowa’s defensive coaches were stumped by a couple of Indiana’s offensive formations a few years ago, while Parker was hospitalized.
Finally around 8 p.m., the coaches hiked over to University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics to pick Parker’s brain.
“In two minutes, it was ‘Oh, we played this in 1960-whatever against Ypsilanti High or whatever. This is how you stop it.”
Ferentz said something similar about Iowa’s Orange Bowl defensive preparation against Georgia Tech and its spread option offense in 2009.
“A couple days after we got the bid, I was walking by his office,” Ferentz said. “He called me in and held up this old manila folder and said ‘This is exactly like the offense so-and-so ran against him at Minnesota in 1977.
“He had that twinkle in his eyes. It was a pretty good indication they were in for a tough game. They certainly were.
“The one thing I got right was hiring Norm Parker to be our defensive coordinator. Boy, if we ever hit a grand slam, that was it right there.”
The respectful, upbeat, loving way Parker’s former colleagues and players spoke of him Saturday told an even-clearer story than Iowa’s many defensive glories over his 13 years here.
“People would ask him how long he was going to coach,” said former Iowa linebacker Mike Humpal. “He’d say ‘Well, till they close the lid.’
“He pretty much did that. The only thing is, the lid’s closed and he’s still coaching.”
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