116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY -- The proclamations for a return in 2012 are muted, but never say never. Not with Norm Parker.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz will concede nothing when it comes to the longevity of his defensive coordinator.
Parker's story the last three seasons includes time in the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in 2009, then, at the beginning of the 2010 season, losing a leg to amputation because of a long battle with diabetes and now it's more or less getting around.
Parker, who turned 70 this fall, has muscled his prosthetic right foot back into driving a car, which was a really big deal, according to Ferentz.
"Before spring, that was a real process for him," Ferentz said. "I think it was a huge thing for him when he was able to drive again, which I think was May, so he can pretty much come and go as he pleases now."
Parker has negotiated Big Ten press boxes this season with the help of a student assistant and graduate assistant. He doesn't like the fuss. You can see that on his face.
But wait, the fact that Parker is here and has made it this far into the season is a big deal. You couldn't say that after 2009 and you certainly couldn't say it after 2010, which Ferentz described this way, "Last year was like a year from hell for him, whatever could've gone wrong . . ."
Parker, whose first coaching job was head coach at St. John's High School in Ypsilanti, Mich., in 1965, is still here. He's made it through the rigors of one more season.
Is there another season, season No. 47? Ferentz isn't ready to answer that, not with Iowa (7-4, 4-3 Big Ten) at No. 21 Nebraska (8-3, 4-3) and the Heroes Game and trophy and a bowl bid yet to negotiate. You know, the tasks that demand immediate focus.
"No, no," Ferentz said. "I can just tell you he is doing so much better than last year. . . . Every day he's been here. Every hour he's been here. It's really a great turnaround from a year ago."
There are loads of rumors out there that say this is it, but then you realize the force of nature at the center of those rumors.
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.
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 -- something Ferentz approves of and actually endorses for offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe. Parker's salary from 2008 to 2009 reflected the recruiting responsibilities. His salary decreased $56,000 from $231,750 to $175, 750.
Since then, Parker is back up to $243,000, but that's in about the middle of Iowa's staff and less than the $248,400 secondary coach Phil Parker made this season.
It's clearly not about money. It's not about ego or hanging on just to fend off thoughts of mortality. There's a spirit that connects with the players, some of whom are more than 50 years younger.
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."
Parker actually broke the ice with a joke.
"I wish I knew the joke that he said," junior cornerback Micah Hyde said. "I wish I remembered that joke. 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," 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."
Ferentz was asked this week if Parker is on his own timetable as far as retirement. He said the topic hasn't been discussed. Ferentz has a heightened sensitivity here.
The book "Personal Foul: Coach Joe Moore vs. The University of Notre Dame" chronicles the age discrimination lawsuit that Moore, Ferentz's high school coach and mentor, brought and eventually won against the school.
During this time period, Ferentz was offensive line coach for the Baltimore Ravens. According to the book, Ferentz hired Moore as a consultant for $15,ooo while Moore was between jobs. Moore was 65 when then-Notre Dame coach Bob Davie fired him.
"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."
It's been a good story. It could very well continue to be one of the best stories within Iowa football.
Q: Norm Parker seems to be doing OK up in the press box. Do you hope he will stay locked in for next year?
FERENTZ: Hopefully. He hasn't missed a day and everything has been as usual, so that's encouraging.
Q: Is there a graduate assistant that is kind of assigned to him and are there issues for him getting in and out of places?
FERENTZ: We have a student assistant and graduate assistant the kind of look after him, but I think everyone does. He's at the point where he can pretty much do everything, which includes drive. He couldn't do that up until last spring. Before spring, that it was a real process for him. I think it was a huge thing for him when he was able to drive again, which I think was May, so he can pretty much come and go as he pleases now.
Q: I've been reading Personal Foul and I'm guessing that you have a heightened sensitivity to coaches who are older and maybe have a set plan in mind how it should go . . .
FERENTZ: It's like a game. I think every situation is different. . . . Coach Moore actually wasn't that old. Hopefully, we all get old.
Q: It's been a long haul for Norm Parker, but he has made it through the whole season. Have you thought about his future beyond this season?
FERENTZ: No, no. I can just tell you he is doing so much better than last year. Last year was like a year from hell for him, whatever could've gone wrong. Every day he's been here. Every hour he's been here. It's really a great turnaround from a year ago.
Q: Some of the players said that last year when he had the amputation and came back that he was kind of the one who broke the ice. He made a joke about it. Do you remember what he said?
FERENTZ: No, but he frequently does that. Like I think I told you, the one day in the spring his leg fell off. It was a really cold day out there. Next day you see it on film, bing. Norm has always had the ability, and that's one of the things that has always impressed me and one of the reason we hired him, he's been through some really tough things in his life. It gives him a pretty good perspective.
Q: I remember back at the Orange Bowl in 2002, you said Norm had been through some storms in his life.
FERENTZ: Yeah. He handled every one with flying colors. That is easier said than done.
Q: Is Norm on his own timetable?
FERENTZ: As far as I know, yeah.
Q: It is going to come from him if he retires?
FERENTZ: We haven't even talked about it. Is this an internet thing or what? We are just trying to win on Saturday.
Q: Do you miss having his personality on the recruiting trail or is too much made of that? He's funny to be around and good around kids.
FERENTZ: Yeah that is one of his unique and rare abilities. I have been around coaches that as they get older have a tough time communicating. 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 talking to people. He has a way of usually in a very concise way of getting to what is important and saying it in a way that can be entertaining. But, there is usually a pretty good message. If you listen closely there is usually a pretty good story. The prospects that come here get to visit with him. If Ken (O'Keefe) was willing, I would have him off the road too, quite frankly. I don't think there is a need to have all nine guys on the road. Personally I think that an inefficient use of time.
Q: You could have all nine out?
FERENTZ: You can have all nine out, but only seven at a time. I have made it available to Ken, but he likes to go out a little bit. That's fine too. I am OK either way. I don't think it is imperative that we have all nine guys out. That's just me. We have plenty of things to do.
Learned from Norm -- Being really disciplined. Taking care of my job first before I can do anything else, and just moving forward. No matter what happens on the field, we have to put out the fire. That's something that we try to do as defense every single game. -- Life -- Just cherishing everything that you have in life. He always talks about looking at the glass half full and always moving forward, so he's always told us to be appreciative of what we have and always moving forward.
Seeing him now -- Not at all. Honestly, he's the same person. He tells jokes here and there, but when it's time to go, he's a serious coach. He knows how to get his gameplan ready and giving us the best chance to win. -- How involved is he -- We see him everyday at practice. We can always talk to him. He's as involved as any coach we have here.
Norm lesson -- Just don't take anything for granted. Live every day to the fullest. You never know what's going to happen. You never know when it's going to be your last down or anything like that. Just go out and work and good things will happen. -- Bad stuff waver -- Not at all. He still has the same intensity now he had when I was a freshman. He has the same know how. He's a true pioneer of the game, loves the game.
Norm stories -- There are so many of them . . . When he got his leg amputated. Most people would be all into self-pity, throwing a boo-hoo party. 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.' 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.
Lots of moments of wisdom. I've grown a lot from what he's had to say. He definitely has a humorous side, but he also gets his point across and does a great job developing kids and young men.
How percentage football and life -- 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.
Never forget -- Of course, he is. He's someone I'll never, ever forget. I couldn't forget him.
Leg amputated -- He definitely made light of it. He knew how strongly we felt about that. He didn't want us to lose our focus because of the high level of concern we have for him. He knows what he's doing.
He has a lot of great sayings, but the talks he gives us off the field, it makes us better people in general. Of course, he's a great coach, but he has a lot of wisdom. He's been through it all. He lets us know how it is and stuff.
Leg amputated -- I remember, it was in Cedar Rapids. The first time we saw him was at the hotel. It might've been the morning before the game or the night before. We were all just thankful he was there. He didn't have to say anything. We were happy he was just with the team. We got together and . . . I wish I knew the joke that he said. I wish I remembered that joke. 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. --
"I hope when the day comes when I can't do it anymore, I have enough brains to say that's it."