Norm Parker was uniquely Iowa.
The coordinator who crafted one of the Big Ten’s most effective defenses during his 13 seasons on the Hawkeye staff never wanted to sit behind the wheel of the prettiest car in the lot loaded down with the latest bells and whistles.
Parker, who died early Monday at the age of 72, preferred to keep things simple.
“I think he found a certain satisfaction in a taking a new-fangled offense and grinding it to a halt with fundamental old-school football,’’ former Iowa linebacker Abdul Hodge said. “That was coach Parker. He won a ton of games beating people with the basics.’’
Five times during his tenure at Iowa, the Hawkeyes finished in the top 10 nationally in rushing defense and three times, Iowa achieved the same level of success in scoring defense.
Named the national assistant coach of the year in 2011 by the American Football Coaches Association, Parker’s defenses were known for their intensity, their consistency and their development of players.
Parker arrived at Iowa shortly after coach Kirk Ferentz was hired prior to the 1999 season and although complications from diabetes forced him to miss six games in 2010 following the amputation of a foot, he didn’t miss a day of work in 2011 before ending a 48-year career as a college coach and educator who taught more than football.
“The game was never about Norm. He cared about his players more than he cared about himself,’’ said Hodge, who spent five years in the NFL and now works in the computer software business in his hometown of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “He taught us how to keep our priorities in order.’’
Parker died early Monday morning at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, taken there late Sunday after a sudden illness.
Known for a number of sayings players simply referred to as “Normisms,’’ Parker maintained an office at Iowa’s Hayden Fry Football Complex following his retirement after the 2011 season, watching tape and attending practices on a regular basis.
Former Hawkeye Jordan Bernstine exchanged greetings with Parker a little over a month ago during a visit to Iowa City.
He said Parker asked him about the knee injuries which have slowed him during his NFL career.
“Then he asked me if I was ready to race him. That was coach. He always got his message across, but he always had a way to put a smile on your face or make you laugh,’’ Bernstine said. “The way he went about it, you always wanted to give him your best.’’
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said Monday in a statement that Parker played a “major and key role in any of the on-the-field success we experienced during his 13 years as our defensive coordinator.’’
Parker said in 2012 he believed his Iowa defenses were successful because he didn’t change things from one week to the next, adding he felt that gave players a chance to grow and improve the deeper the team went into a season.
“More important and valuable is the strong and positive impact that he had on our players, staff, support staff and fans – everyone he interfaced with during his 15 years in Iowa,’’ Ferentz said. “Norm was an excellent football coach. Beyond that, he was a tremendous spouse, father and cherished friend to many.’’
Former Hawkeye defensive tackle Mike Daniels said the lessons taught by Parker extended beyond the confines of a football field.
“He’s been doing this for so long, and he has his ways,’’ said Daniels, now playing defensive end for the Green Bay Packers. “It’s hard to explain. He’ll give you a football lesson, but it’s also a life lesson. Then he’ll give you a life lesson and when you think about it, it’s also a football lesson. He knows what he’s doing.’’
Experience taught Parker that.
His first job out of college at Eastern Michigan was as the head football coach at St. John’s High School in Ypsilanti, Mich. Three years later, he returned to Eastern Michigan as the offensive line coach and he worked the rest of his career as an assistant at the collegiate level.
His resume included stops at Wake Forest, Minnesota, Illinois, East Carolina, Michigan State and Vanderbilt before he joined the Iowa staff. Iowa director of athletics Gary Barta thought highly of Parker.
“He was a brilliant defensive coordinator, and his players loved him,’’ Barta said. “He knew how to win football games, but more importantly, he knew how to make you feel good and laugh. He will truly be missed.’’
Services for Parker are scheduled for Friday morning at St. Mary Catholic Church in Chelsea, Mich. A memorial service will be held in Iowa City at a later date.
Survived by his wife Linda, son Jim and daughters Suzy, Michelle and Joyce and six grandchildren, Parker was preceded in death by his first wife, Ginger, and son, Jeff, who dealt with Down syndrome and died in 2004 at the age of 33 because of complications from strokes.
Memorial contributions may be made to Special Olympics or directed to the Norm Parker Athletic Scholarship Fund, c/o The University of Iowa Foundation, PO Box 4550, Iowa City, IA 52242-4550.
Norm Parker, the architect of the Iowa football program’s defense for the first 13 seasons coach Kirk Ferentz led the Iowa program, has died.
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Parker, 72, ended a 48-year coaching career when he retired following the 2011 season, but continued to be a regular visitor around the Iowa football complex, attending practices and watching tape even after he called it a career.
Details of his death remain sketchy this morning, but many of his former players have taken to social media to express their respect and condolences to a coach who helped shape their lives and careers.
Former Hawkeye Tyler Sash was the first to break the news, announcing on Twitter, “R.I.P. Coach Norm Parker. Thank you for everything.’’
Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive lineman Adrian Clayborn followed shortly, “Sad to wake up and hear about Norm. He was a great man and coach.’’
Parker was named by the American Football Coaches Association as its national assistant coach of the year in 2011 and he was a two-time finalist for the Broyles Award, presented to the game’s top assistant.
His defenses were known for their physical play and their consistent. Iowa ranked five times among the top 10 defenses against the rush during Parker’s 13 seasons on the Hawkeye sideline.
Parker lost a foot to complications from diabetes in 2010 and missed six games that season, but returned to his role as defensive coordinator the following season.
“Personally, it was important to me just to prove that I could do it,’’ he said about his return in 2011. “I didn’t want to say, ‘The leg ran me off.’ I didn’t want that to happen. I wanted to prove I could do it, if that makes sense.’’
Despite his health, Parker didn’t miss a day of work during his final season but said prior to the 2011 Insight Bowl that the day-to-day grind told him it was time to step aside.
“As much as anything, I think you’ve got to be fair to the team, you’ve got to be fair to the program,’’ Parker said. “When it’s time to go, it’s time to go. When you can’t do it and do it right, do it the way it should be done, it’s time to let somebody else do it.’’
Parker was replaced by long-time assistant Phil Parker and the following fall, Norm Parker found himself watching games from suite levels and an entirely different perspective.
“I sit up in those suites around people who think they know all the answers,’’ he said following an appearance at the Davenport Grid Club in 2012. “I go to practice and hell, there are times when I don’t even know what’s going on, but others, they have all the answers. It’s good to be around, though. I still enjoy that.’’
Parker said at the time he still enjoyed watching formations, how coaches defended what was taking place on the field.
Coaching and family – he and his wife, Linda raised six children including a deceased special needs son, Jeff, who frequently accompanied his father to Hawkeye sporting events as Parker’s scheduled permitted.
Parker began his coaching career at St. John’s High School in Ypsilanti, Mich., in 1965 and three years later, he returned to Eastern Michigan, his collegiate alma mater, as an offensive line coach. Parker coached at Wake Forest, Minnesota, Illinois, East Carolina, Michigan State and Vanderbilt before joining the Iowa staff in 1999.