Cane in tow, Parker up for 2011 redo of Iowa's defense

Norm Parker sits in a golf cart watching the first of Iowa's spring practice at Kinnick Stadium on Wednesday, March 30,
Norm Parker sits in a golf cart watching the first of Iowa's spring practice at Kinnick Stadium on Wednesday, March 30, 2011, in Iowa City. (Liz Martin/SourceMedia Group News)

IOWA CITY -- Norm Parker has held a spring news conference the last three or so years. The time lapse from his exits from the six-inch platform in the players auditorium would reveal a deteriation in health.

Parker, 69, needed a boost from offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe to get out of his chair and down the step, where leaned on his cane and found steadiness with his prosthetic right foot, of course, the one he lost to diabetes last September.

It took a few huffs and puffs and an expletive or two, but once Iowa's defensive coordinator of 13 years gathered himself you got a taste of the spirit that fuels him in his 47th season of coaching football.

"And you guys asked me if planned to be on the sideline," Parker quipped and the players auditorium filled with media from across the state burst into laughs.

No bold declarations Wednesday about coaching until the lid closes on the coffin, a Normism that has rung out during spring news conferences past. Parker entered University Hospitals and Clinics before the Iowa State game last season and didn't leave until around the Michigan State game on Oct. 30. He lost his right foot to diabetes, a disease he's fought over the years.

Parker, who also spent some time in the UIHC during the 2009 season, has lost his right foot and walks with a cane. He wants to make it through the season, but no declarations.

"I'd like to be alive when the season is over," he said. "I feel pretty good. I feel pretty good. I just want to get to where I can be more mobile. You know, learning how to walk and I can go across flat surfaces, but if something is real bumpy, I'd start to get a little wiggly."

Parker, who's tooled around practice in a golf cart for the past several years, didn't fully return until the Insight Bowl, which the Hawkeyes held on to win, 27-24 over No. 12 Missouri.

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz never wavered on his desire for Parker, who began coaching football at St. John's (Mich.) High School in 1965, to return and return for the long haul.

"That's tough right there," O'Keefe said after helping his friend and colleague. "He's tough."

The redo of Iowa defense for 2011 isn't for the faint of heart. The Hawkeyes lose two bona fide NFL draft picks on the D-line in Adrian Clayborn and Christian Ballard. Safety Tyler Sash left for the NFL draft with a year of eligibility remaining. Tackle Karl Klug has a shot to get drafted, if the NFL can figure out how to use a 275-pounder who can run a 4.7 40.

Linebackers return, but they remain relatively young. All-Big Ten cornerback Shaun Prater returns, but returning corner Micah Hyde has moved to free safety this spring, which could be a permanent deal.

For Saturday's spring scrimmage, a walk-on junior who's never played a game (Collin Sleeper) will start at strong safety and redshirt freshman Carl Davis, who tweaked a knee during . . . this is true, according to Parker . . . the UI dance marathon, is the starter at one of the tackle spots.

"We seem to be fairly decent with our speed," Parker said. "I do think we'll be fairly good. I just question when, you know, we've got some young guys and some things to clean up, but they're young, aggressive guys who can run fast."

Prater is the most proven defender, coming off a first-team all-Big Ten season with four interceptions. Hyde also had four picks and was defensive MVP of the Insight Bowl after returning an interception 72 yards for the game-winning TD. After an off year, senior defensive end Broderick Binns has a chance to return to the productivity he enjoyed his sophomore season (9.5 tackles for loss with 5.5 sacks).

Outside linebacker Tyler Nielsen returns after missing five games with a broken neck. Middle linebacker James Morris learned a lot after being thrown into the position as a true freshman.

"He's faster than you think he is," Parker said of Morris. "He's got good speed and he's really into the game. He's sort of the All-American boy. I mean, he works hard. He studies hard. He just does everything right. He does everything right.

"He belongs on a Wheaties box."

There's the spirit and the humor that belies Parker's years and his health. It took him a few minutes to get down from the platform, but, fully aware of the audience, he was already working up the press box line.

There were a few cold days last week during practice, which makes for chilly driving in the golf cart.

"I don't know how the conversation came up, but it was pretty nippy out there," O'Keefe said. "And he [Parker] goes, 'Yeah, it was so darned cold my leg fell off.' I don't know if it's leg or foot or how it's put on or anything, but whatever it was . . .

"He doesn't even blink. He thought it was funny."

By the way, it will be press box again this year for Parker, where he was all of last season and a good portion of '09. He had a hard time with a six-inch step. A crazy-happy crowd pouring out onto the Kinnick Stadium field?

"I think I would be a hazard, not only to myself but to somebody else out there if I couldn't move around, if I had to get out of the way," Parker said. "Even with my cane."Norm lives.

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