The Short List: Phil Parker

At most schools, an open coordinator position wouldn't be cause for serious contemplation. Coordinators come and go, in most circumstances. Iowa football isn't most schools, though; the program hasn't hired a new coordinator in thirteen years, and a full-on head coaching search looks to be years away. Defensive Coordinator LET'S TALK ABOUT IT.

If you ask some people who know this program well, they'll tell you some signs indicate the defensive coordinator position might already be filled by the presumptive favorite. Whether he officially has the job or not, Phil Parker is the overwhelming favorite to eventually get it.


Let's start with what Phil Parker is not: He's not Norm Parker's son, though I guess he might as well be. Parker played defensive back at Michigan State from 1981-1985, earning all-Big Ten honors three times and a Cherry Bowl MVP award. For the last two years of his playing career, he played for defensive backs coach Nick Saban and outside linebackers coach Norm Parker. He joined the Michigan State staff as a graduate assistant in 1987, then took a job as secondary coach at Toledo. He stayed with the Rockets for 11 years, serving under three different head coaches (including a couple of guys you may know): Dan Simrell, Nick Saban, and Gary Pinkel. In 1999, when Norm Parker was named defensive coordinator, he came looking for Phil. Parker joined the elder Parker at Iowa for Ferentz's first season as secondary coach, and he's never left despite ample opportunity for job advancement (when Florida State's defensive coordinator position opened up a couple of seasons ago, I was surprised to get two emails from two separate FSU websites asking my opinion on Phil Parker as the hot name on their short list).

Parker has been extremely successful developing talent as a secondary coach at Iowa. In his time here, Parker has had 8 players drafted (Eric Thigpen, Matt Bowen, Bob Sanders, Sean Considine, Charles Godfrey, Bradley Fletcher, Amari Spievey, and Tyler Sash) and another handful make it to NFL rosters; in classic Iowa fashion, none of those received a rating higher than three stars from the recruiting services. Parker's cornerbacks and safeties have developed a reputation as solid tacklers and strong in run support, just as Norm would have it.

Parker's the current odds-on favorite to get the defensive coordinator position, and it's been met with a collective groan from the fanbase. Phil Parker would have been the odds-on favorite for the position if Norm Parker had retired following the 2009 season, though I would guess that the general reaction would be different. The fans' perception of Parker is based primarily on two things: His last name, which screams "MORE OF THE SAME" in ways nothing else can, and his work as co-coordinator in 2010. When Norm Parker went into the hospital in September 2010, Phil Parker and linebackers coach Darrell Wilson took the defensive coordinator position on an interim basis. The overall results were solid: Iowa ranked second in the Big Ten and seventh in the country in scoring defense, third/25th nationally in total defense, second/sixth in rushing defense, and second/24th in pass efficiency defense. Even though the overall numbers were as good as any other Iowa defense had ever been, the final record -- eight wins, five losses -- and the repeated fourth-quarter meltdowns leading to those five losses infuriated fans and fed the perception that the Hawkeyes in general, and the defense in particular, grossly underachieved. With twelve months worth of hindsight, that simply wasn't the case. They might have been unable to hold a lead in the fourth quarter, but they were also the reason those leads existed in the first place. Further, that defensive philosophy was the direct effect of the circumstances leading to Parker's and Wilson's promotion. Phil Parker was implementing Norm Parker's defense, not his own, in the uncertain circumstance that Norm could return at any time. If Phil gets this job, it's his defense, and he'll have eight months to implement it. My guess is it will be familiarly conservative, but far from identical.

The reason for hope: Parker's pedigree. Not only has Phil coached and played under two defensive masters, but they are two defensive masters with fundamentally different philosophies. Norm was assignment football, fundamental football, cover two in all circumstances, and it's still an Iowa defense under Kirk Ferentz, and yes, we expect mostly more of the same. But Phil Parker didn't play for Norm Parker, and Phil didn't coach for Norm Parker until eleven years into his career. His defensive philosophy of late may be Norm's, but his early work is firmly under the Nick Saban umbrella. Iowa will still be primarily a cover two defense, but I'd expect additional coverages -- cover 3, cover 5 (which we saw more than ever this year) and that old Saban favorite, cover 1 robber.

Phil Parker is the odds-on favorite, everyone. We could certainly do much worse.

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