IOWA CITY — Norm Parker was remembered Saturday as more than a football coach.
Former Iowa players and coaches he worked with shared experiences and recalled lessons learned extending beyond the confines of the Kinnick Stadium turf which served as backdrop at a Celebration of Life service which honored the longtime Hawkeyes defensive coordinator who died on January 13.
“People would ask Norm how long he planned to coach and he’d always say he was going to coach ‘until the lid’s closed,’’’ former Hawkeye linebacker Mike Humpal said. “Well, the lid’s closed and he’s still coaching. What he taught us all is a part of how we deal with life.’’
Humpal was among five former Hawkeyes who spoke during a 90-minute remembrance of a man who coached for 48 years, including 13 seasons as the first defensive coordinator hired by coach Kirk Ferentz at Iowa.
NFL veterans Chad Greenway, Abdul Hodge, LeVar Woods and Aaron Kampman were Hawkeyes who shared memories of Parker with a crowd of several hundred people.
Ferentz, defensive coordinator Phil Parker and former Hawkeyes assistant Eric Johnson, who followed Parker from Vanderbilt to Iowa in 1999, joined Parker’s son, Jim, and his grandson, Tyler Anderson, in speaking to a crowd which included dozens of former Iowa players, current coaches, members of the Parker family and fans who simply appreciated Parker and the play of the defenses he coached.
Ferentz described the decision to hire Parker to lead the Hawkeyes defense as “the one thing’’ he got right during his initial days as Iowa’s coach, calling it a “grand slam’’ because of the type of coach and, more importantly, the type of person that Parker was.
Both Johnson and Ferentz said Parker had a knack for putting together the right defensive plan at the right time for an opponent, referencing his “dusty manila folders’’ with past game plans which were successfully executed again decades later.
Most of the speakers talked about Parker’s preference to keep the spotlight on others.
“He’d probably be a little embarrassed by all this, because it was never about Norm. It never was. It was always his guys, the program, somebody, anybody but himself,’’ said Greenway, currently a Minnesota Vikings linebacker and one of 23 Hawkeyes defenders drafted by NFL teams during Parker’s tenure.
Greenway touched on the hardships life dealt Parker, including the death of his first wife and later the loss of his son and “best friend’’ Jeff who had Down syndrome as well as his own medical issues.
“A lot of people would let that take them down a path of negativity, but that was not what Norm was about,’’ Greenway said.
Kampman said Parker was "so much more than a football coach.''
Many of the stories illustrated the senses of humor and humility that Parker carried throughout his life and Hodge told the crowd that Parker’s Iowa defenses against the run ranked in the top 10 nationally five times because of the way he coached.
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“He trusted his players, believed in them,’’ Hodge said. “His spirit came through in the toughness his defenses showed every Saturday and in the way he prepared us to play.’’
Woods, who now coaches linebackers at Iowa after playing in 1999 and 2000 on defenses coached by Parker, said that preparation extended well beyond football.
“Norm never taught us to be NFL football players, none of us,’’ Woods said. “He taught us how to be better men, how to be successful men, brothers and fathers, contributors to society.’’
Parker’s son Jim said that is the legacy Parker left behind.
“Coaching football is a difficult, time-consuming profession with a lot of long hours so dad brought our family, our friends, everybody, to the game of football,’’ Jim Parker said. “We went to every game, went to practices. He wanted us all to come along for the ride and we’re better because of it.’’
As the program concluded, 19 members of Parker’s family carried black-and-gold balloons to midfield. As they were released, a breeze carried them in the direction of the Iowa football facilities where Parker worked for the final seasons of his career.