Norm Parker Retiring as Iowa Defensive Coordinator, Effective After Insight Bowl

(Another old Norm article from 2011, after he announced his retirement. -- PV)

Some not-exactly surprising news out of Iowa City tonight: Norm Parker, who has been the only defensive coordinator during Kirk Ferentz's 13-year tenure at Iowa, has retired. Parker's retirement will be effective at the end of the month, after the Hawkeyes' Insight Bowl appearance against Oklahoma. From Norm, via Hawkeye Sports:

I would like to announce that the 2011 Insight Bowl will be my last game as a football coach at Iowa. I would like to personally thank Gary Barta, Kirk Ferentz, the coaches, and players at Iowa, along with the fantastic fans. It has been a great time, one that myself and my entire family greatly appreciate. I would also like to thank the office staff, the equipment people, and a special thanks to the medical staff, as I used them enough. The entire Hawkeye community has been great.

My wife Linda, and all the members of our family, were very pleased to be members of the Hawkeye family. We truly enjoyed our time here. After 48 years of doing something I love, it is time to enjoy some time with the grandkids. Go Hawks!

Ferentz issued the following statement, again from Hawkeye Sports:

Norm's contributions to our team the past 13 years are deeply appreciated, as he has had a tremendous impact on our program. As I have said publicly on many occasions, Norm is a superb defensive coach and has served as a strong role model and mentor for all of our players and our entire staff.

Norm Parker began coaching football in 1965, at a high school in Michigan. He made the jump to the collegiate ranks in 1968 and never left. After a couple of brief stops at Eastern Michigan and Wake Forest coaching offense, Parker took a job coaching defensive linemen at Minnesota. He never coached offense again. He spent five years at Minnesota, three years coaching linebackers at Illinois, three years as defensive coordinator at East Carolina. He then went to Michigan State to coach linebackers, and spent most of the 1980s doing just that, under George Perles and alongside Nick Saban. He was promoted to defensive coordinator in 1990, and ran the MSU defense for five seasons until Perles was fired in 1994. Norm spent a couple of seasons at Vanderbilt as a linebackers coach and, eventually, defensive coordinator (he was the 1997 SEC Defensive Coordinator of the Year).

He joined Kirk Ferentz's staff in 1999 and has never left. More than anything else, his defenses have been the bedrock of Ferentz's success at Iowa, all predicated on the same philosophy: Don't give up the big play, make an offense string together a drive, and by God stop the run. There were the catchphrases -- "Six seconds of hell," "Death, taxes, and cover two" -- and there were the results. Iowa finished in the national top 10 in rushing defense four times from 2002 to 2009. In three consecutive seasons, from 2007 through 2009, Iowa finished in the national top 12 in scoring defense. He took unheralded recruits like Bob Sanders, Chad Greenway, Abdul Hodge, Mitch King, Matt Kroul, Pat Angerer, Amari Spievey, Tyler Sash, and a handful of walk-on safeties and turned them into all-Big Ten performers and NFL-caliber talents, to say nothing of what he could do with top-level high school talents like Matt Roth, Adrian Clayborn and Christian Ballard. Iowa has put the third-most defensive linemen into the NFL of any program in the last seven years. It has landed an absurd number of secondary players, as well, including guys who had no business being that good. He took a 5'8" kid with a couple of MAC offers and turned him into the NFL Defensive Player of the Year. He transformed an eight-man option quarterback from South Dakota into a first-round draft pick at weakside linebacker. He did more with less than anyone in the country.

Parker's greatest defense at Iowa is up for debate -- 2003, 2004, 2008, and 2009 were all vintage Parker teams -- but his masterwork was probably the 2010 Orange Bowl. Iowa faced Georgia Tech's offensive juggernaut that night, a triple option scheme straight out of the 1960's. The Hawkeyes were decided underdogs, and for good reason; what do you do when your defense, predicated on stopping the run, faces the unstoppable running game? What everyone failed to recognize was that option defense was assignment defense, and Norm Parker didn't need a month to teach his players where to be. Georgia Tech had averaged more than 300 rushing yards and 435 total yards of offense per game through the regular season; against Iowa, they managed just 143 yards rushing and 12 yards passing. It might have been the most dominant 24-14 win in college football history.

Parker has combated health problems since early in his tenure, particularly related to diabetes. In the mid-00's, Parker missed some time to have toes amputated. He stopped going on the road to recruit around the same time. In September 2010, while Iowa was beginning what looked to be a groundbreaking season, Parker went missing. One month later, we found out Norm had been admitted to the hospital to have his lower leg amputated, and would not return until 2011. Whether it be for his absence, for the overstretched assistants working to fill the hole he left, or for 200 different reasons, the defense never looked up to the task. When Norm finally returned, he looked haggard and tired. Position coaches repeatedly told of his ability to see the game unlike anyone else, and he coached from the press box through the season, but it was clear that this was the end. Today, that was confirmed.

Parker wasn't always perfect. There was the well-documented trouble with spread offenses, the stubborn adherence to using linebackers in zone coverage, the resistance to blitzing. Yet, even Parker's faults reflected the program and the state it represented. He was the gray-haired, conservative, occasionally profane, common sense voice of a gray-haired, conservative, common sense program. When Norm would joke that he would never retire because his wife wouldn't want him around the house, we smiled with acknowledgement that someday, we'd be there too. When he rolled out an Abbott and Costello routine with Tom Brands on the I-Club circuit, we laughed at our grandfathers talking with our crazy friends. When he famously advocated the illegality of the spread offense, we felt his level of frustration. When he stubbornly shirked the spotlight after returning from his stay at the hospital, we respected his work ethic for the upteenth time. Parker started at Iowa at age 56, the old hand in the service of a completely unknown 43-year old babyfaced head coach, the gravitas in a coaching staff sorely lacking in name recognition. Now he's pushing 70, and the unknown coach is the dean of the Big Ten and soon to turn 55 himself and gray from his years at the helm. I would never write that Kirk is now Norm, because there won't ever be another Norm, but Kirk has that weight now, and Norm no longer needs to be there to provide it.

Like any good Iowa blog, we'll begin speculating on the next defensive coordinator tomorrow. But tonight, for just one night, a moment for Norm Parker, the Patron Saint of Iowa defense. There's never been another quite like him, and for good reason, there won't be another like him again.

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