IOWA CITY - If ever there were doubts in Norm Parker's mind about his future, all of them sifted away quickly Oct. 23.
Iowa's 68-year-old defensive coordinator had spent more than a month in the hospital battling diabetes. He'd had his right foot amputated. He had been separated from the coaches and players he loves. After six weeks away, he finally got to attend a game, if only as a spectator, when the Hawkeyes hosted Michigan State.
"I was sitting at that game up in the press box and thinking to myself ‘This is really where I want to be. This is who I am, what I live for,'" Parker said. "So there's no question my intention for next year is to be back, to be back stronger and healthier than ever."
After missing almost the entire season, Parker is back taking an active role with the Hawkeyes as they prepare to face Missouri in the Insight Bowl on Dec. 28 in Tempe, Ariz.
He struggled to get into the room with a walker and had to be assisted into a chair for a session with the media Friday, but he said nothing is going to keep him away from this game.
"I'm walking more now in the walker," he said. "I walked 150 yards, which I thought was pretty good. I've climbed 14 stairs, which can get me in an airplane, I hope.
"It's getting better. It's just taking a while. Takes a while to get it done."
Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said Parker has been in the office every day in recent weeks and has not missed a practice.
There is little question the Hawkeyes missed Parker and his decades of defensive wisdom. In all five of their losses this season, they allowed the opponent to drive 70 or more yards for a game-winning touchdown in the final 5 minutes. It's not the sort of thing that happens against Norm Parker defenses.
Ferentz tiptoed a line between fully describing what Parker means to the team and criticizing those coaches who filled in during his absence.
"I think everybody did a great job of grabbing on, taking care of business ..." Ferentz said. "But over the long haul, we're better with Norm, no question about it. So it will be good to get him back and go from there."
Parker admitted that it was frustrating at times to see the Hawkeyes struggling on the defensive side of the ball.
"You know, that's football," he said. "I mean, sometimes you get the bear and sometimes the bear gets you. Really, if you asked me to explain this year, the Big Ten, I'd say it was the year of the quarterback. I think we got beat and we had trouble controlling some really, really good quarterbacks."
During his absence, there was an outpouring of love and concern for Parker. He said he received piles and piles of cards and letters. Iowa fans often chanted "Norm, Norm, Norm" when their defense was in a tough spot. Many had special shirts made up saying such things as "Norm only needs 1 foot to kick your (butt)."
Parker said the time away gave him a new appreciation for his position.
"Before when I was coaching, it was all about the wins, that kind of stuff," he said. "Now it's about being around the guys. In other words, I like to be around the young guys. I like being around the coaches. I like being out of the house. Don't say that too loud.
"I guess it amounts to I really realized what I am and who I am, and this is what I like."
Ferentz said he hopes Parker will remain a part of his staff for a long time to come.
Parker made it clear he's thinking along those same lines. Retirement isn't on his radar.
"Like I told somebody the other day, I've seen these pictures of guys on artificial legs snow skiing. If they can do that, why can't I coach?" he said. "There are actually days when I have to look down to figure out when I have this prosthetic on, which one is the real leg and which one is the artificial leg. It's starting to where it helps you, where it helps having something there ...
"You don't have to be in University Hospital or Mercy Hospital to find out there's a lot of guys got it worse than you got it. So quit aching and complaining about it and get moving."