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December 12, 2011On Sunday evening in a press release, Norm Parker ended the yearly guessing game and announced that the 2011 Insight Bowl would be his final game as Iowa's defensive coordinator.
When the veteran coach would retire was seemly a yearly topic of discussion among Iowa fans. Every summer there was a seemingly credible rumor this would be his final season. Every year in early August, there was Parker in his golf cart holding court for at least an hour telling stories and entertaining us at media day by making jokes about his wife not allowing him retire.
In the statement announcing his retirement, Parker took the time to thank Kirk Ferentz, Gary Barta, and everyone associated with the University of Iowa, including the Hawkeye faithful.
Honestly, it should be the other way around.
They don't make them Norm Parker anymore and in coaching, there will probably never be another one like him.
His record speaks for itself, particularly during his 13 year run at the University of Iowa. His Hawkeye defense has been ranked in the top ten nationally in stopping the run five times during his tenure. Three of the last four years, Iowa has been ranked in the top ten in scoring defense.
We all know the coaching side of Norm Parker, but he was so much more than that. He was part comedian, part educator, part inspirational leader, and one of the toughest tender hearted men you will ever meet.
I remember back to before the 2005 season sitting down with Abdul Hodge and Chad Greenway in Chicago at Big Ten Media Day asking them for their best Norm Parker story. They just smiled, laughed and said, "There are just so many." A few of them weren't fit for print, according to Greenway.
The greatest testament to Norm Parker is that to this day, on or off the record, you can't find an Iowa player who will say a bad word about him. His players revere him in a way that is rarely found in today's game. You might think that a man approaching retirement age would have a difficult time relating to today's athlete, but it was just the opposite with Parker. He made an ever complex game seem simple to his players and they loved him for it.
Prior to the 2006 Outback Bowl game against Florida, we had a media visit scheduled with Parker after one of Iowa's practices at a local high school. It was getting dark after a late afternoon workout and we saw a few players wearing a t-shirt that listed the top ten "Normism's" and nearly every one of them needed an explanation. Marc Morehouse from the Cedar Rapids Gazette asked about one of them, "Dancing Bears and Elephants on Parade". One thing about Parker is he loves props and Morehouse became one of them as Norm explained what dancing bears and elephants on parade were. I've long forgotten what it all meant, but it was Norm Parker at his best and most endearing.
Two years ago Parker was on center stage again a prior to the Orange Bowl trying to explain Georgia Tech's option attack. There was no dry erase board available, so Parker resorted to an assortment of half full cups, water bottles, and a glass of orange juice to explain their running game. Again, it was classic Norm making the hard to understand seem simple and doing it in his own one of a kind style.
That's Norm and that's why he was so successful, even in the face of enormous physical and emotional challenges. He never lost his sense of humor, eye for talent, and the amazing ability to coach defense and relate to people from all walks of life.
In early 2004, Parker lost his son and best buddy Jeffery, who had Down Syndrome, at the age of 33. Norm and Jeffery were inseparable. Wherever you saw Norm, you saw Jeff, be it on the football field, at Hawkeye Basketball games, or in Knoxville watching sprint car races.
Later that year Parker ended up in a hospital bed for several weeks early in the season due to complications from his diabetic condition that eventually led to the amputation of leg in 2010. Most people would have simply called it a career back in 2004 after he lost a couple of toes and a beloved son in the same year. But, Norm didn't. Norm needed football and let's face it, football needed Norm. He wasn't done, not by a long shot, and he arguably did his best work in the final years of his coaching career, which makes what he accomplished all that more amazing.
Never once did Parker complain about his situation and offer up excuses or ask for pity. He simply smiled, told another joke or shared another amusing story, and brightened up every room he entered, all while being one of the brightest football minds you will ever find.
Norm Parker was one of kind there will never be another one like him, nor should there be. On behalf of Hawkeye fans everywhere let me say, thank you Coach Parker for so many great stories and memories the past 13 years and we wish you a very happy and healthy retirement because you have earned it.