Enter Phil Parker's dojo, you better come correct
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — When Sean Considine was a freshman at Iowa in 2001, his parents sat directly behind the bench with a lot of Hawkeye football parents.
Sean’s mom immediately noticed then-defensive backs coach Phil Parker. He was the loud one.
“The biggest adjustment was probably for my mother,” said Considine, a former Hawkeye and NFL safety. “After her first game, I’ll never forget it, she called me and started asking questions. ‘How do you get along with coach Parker?’”
Phil Parker has since become Iowa’s defensive coordinator. That’s really about the only change.
He’s still a fireball coach.
“It’s almost better if he comes and gets in your face about something,” senior defensive end Parker Hesse said. “It’s almost worse when he walks up to you after a drill and says, ‘Did I just see that?’ You’re kind of like, ‘Yeah.’ It’s easier to take if it’s right in your face. You just say, ‘Yes, sir.’”
This is not new.
Longevity and honesty
Parker is in his 20th season at Iowa. He and strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle aren’t the last remaining members from head coach Kirk Ferentz’s first staff, but they are the only ones who’ve coached every one of those 20 seasons.
Long way of saying they ran out of “I got yelled at by coach Parker” T-shirts years ago.
Here’s an anecdote from Charles Godfrey, a former Hawkeye who spent eight seasons in the NFL. Godfrey was a big recruit out of Texas, with offers from Missouri and Pitt.
Godfrey said a lot of college recruiters told him how great he was going to be. Not Phil Parker.
“Coach Parker came in and said, ‘Let’s go watch some film,’” Godfrey said. “He watched film with me and didn’t point out the good things. He pointed out the things I did wrong.
“That’s what I wanted. I wanted somebody who was going to make me better.”
Godfrey wanted the truth.
“The smart guys want to go with the truth,” Godfrey said. “There are guys who just want to be pampered and want things to go their way. When things don’t turn out their way, they think, ‘I didn’t know it was going to happen like this.’
“I wanted him to be honest with me. I’ll work for what I get.”
That is the cult of Phil Parker. He invites you to accept the challenge. He invites you to hold yourself to a high standard.
That’s music to a lot of competitors’ ears.
“He never allows you to get comfortable,” said former Hawkeye Jovon Johnson, who’s in his 12th season in the Canadian Football League (currently in his second year with the Saskatchewan Roughriders). “He never allows you to get comfortable. He holds you to a standard and he’ll hold you to that standard whether you’re a starter or you just have a role. He’ll always hold you to that standard.”
An intense approach
There are a lot of stories about Parker’s intensity.
“I’ve heard stories and I’ve been a part of stories on my own end,” senior safety Jake Gervase said. “You take in and learn from the mistake. You block out the other stuff. He gets going and gets fired up. There’s a mutual respect between him and a lot of the players on our defense. We all understand that he has our best interests in mind.
“He wants to help us win ballgames. He cares more about the game of football than anyone I’ve ever been around.”
As defensive coordinator, Parker addresses the defense at the beginning of the week. He gives a general outline of the game plan and then they dig in and practice from there.
Parker is pretty chill on Sunday/Monday. It’s DEFCON 1 by Thursday.
“He’s a guy who’s very particular,” Hesse said. “So, as the week goes on, the more film he watches and the more he sees in practice, he identifies small, little things that could maybe potentially hurt us. As the week goes on, those things kind of add up, so he’s just a little more anxious than at the beginning of the week.”
The DEFCON anxious thing is working.
Parker took over for the late Norm Parker in 2012. Iowa finished 49th in the nation that season in total defense. In Phil Parker’s seven seasons as defensive coordinator, the Hawkeyes have had an average national finish of 23rd. Currently, going into Saturday’s game at Purdue (4-4, 3-2 Big Ten), No. 16 Iowa (6-2, 3-2) is fourth in the nation in total defense (264.9 yards per game).
Iowa has done this while replacing the entire linebacker corps, replacing both cornerbacks and morphing a steadfastly 4-3 defense that for the most part played three linebacker-sized linebackers with more of a speedy, nickel approach, with safety Amani Hooker playing a “star” linebacker role.
Freshman corners Julius Brents and Riley Moss have thrived.
“It shows their maturity and the football instincts they have,” Hooker said. “On top of that, you have coach Parker, who does his magic in teaching them the game of football. It really helps them out.”
“Details, details. It’s never letting you off the hook. If you have an interception or something, you can improve more,” Hooker said.
Basically, Iowa has had a top 25 defense under Phil Parker.
“Phil is a very humble guy. Very humble, very competitive,” head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “I think that’s one thing that’s been pretty consistent.
“We played pretty good defense, not from day one, but that was a goal from day one. That’s one thing we really tried to hang our hat on, work from there. I think Phil has done a great job with it. I think we have a really good staff. All those guys communicate well, talk about issues, what the problems are going to be this week. They’re something new every week.”
Getting in the circle of trust
It’s a process with Parker. He is extra tough on young players. They need to know and understand what the standard is and what the expectations are.
What happens when you make it inside the circle of trust? And you know all of the good ones do eventually.
“It was a sigh of relief, honestly,” Johnson said. “At first, I thought I might’ve done something wrong. I wasn’t sure. I was nervous. ‘Wait, coach isn’t talking to me as much. He’s not on me all of the time. This is new, this is different.’
“I was worried at first. As the games went on, he trusted me. I’d gone through the growing pains. I got better and grew and it clicked. He trusted that I was going to be on top of my technique and help lead the way.”
Sean Considine did explain to his mom, Colleen, that Parker’s mode of communication usually included bulging forehead veins.
“We talk about it to this day,” said Considine, who’s the defensive coordinator for his alma mater Byron (Ill.) High School and has an open line to call Parker for tips. “She knows how close I am with Phil and the mentoring relationship we have. The one thing I’ve always told people about coach Parker is his passion and emotion don’t surprise anyone. They’re always alongside him.”
Everyone has a “I got yelled at by coach Parker” T-shirt. If someone wanted to put Phil Parkerisms on a T-shirt, where would they start?
“It’d probably be too inappropriate for a T-shirt,” Gervase, a senior, said with a laugh. “I’ve thought about writing down some of the stuff he says in meetings, just keep a little book, but it’s too late in my career for that. I need to get one of the younger guys to do it, because I think it’d be pretty funny.
“He’s a different character, but he’s awesome to play for. He knows football more than anyone else.”
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