Norm Parker is dead. That's a blunt way to put it, but Norm Parker was a blunt man, a coach's coach through and through who had utterly no use for defensive trickery like, y'know... blitzes. Parker's philosophy was simple: we've got these 11 guys running these 11 assignments, and it's up to you to beat them. More than likely, you couldn't. Hey, when you've got the winning hand, why would you ever bluff?
That philosophy was quintessentially Big Ten, and though Parker had used it for 20 years in the Big Ten before he even spent a day working in Iowa City, it was with Kirk Ferentz that Parker perfected it. Iowa finished in the top 10 in rushing defense four times under Parker, and it was that physical play that earned Iowa the "Bullies of the Big Ten" moniker under Ferentz.
I have to confess that I'm not sure what to say about Parker's passing. It's not that it took any Hawkeye fans by surprise; as soon as he lost a toe to diabetes, we started to have an idea what the endgame might look like; when the disease took his foot and confined him to the golf cart, essentially forcing his retirement shortly thereafter, the writing was on the wall. The UI hasn't released details on Parker's death, but I suspect the details aren't terribly important—and if he didn't succumb to the diabetes, it's only because something else beat it to the punch. It wasn't a surprise; it was time.
But just because we had started emotionally preparing for this day years ago doesn't make the day any less dark. Some part of me was always hoping a headline would scream out of nowhere someday, "NORM'S DIABETES CURED!" and the subhed would helpfully add "FOOT REGENERATES TOO!" and the picture is him jumping for joy. You know, because if you think of one guy who would jump a lot, it'd be Norm, right?
That's not the way it works, though. Not any of this. Death isn't cruel; it just doesn't make exceptions. If anything it's the fairest human institution of them all. But today doesn't feel fair. Not a damn bit.
"The graveyards* are full of indispensable men," Charles de Gaulle once said. And so Norm Parker was. Put it this way: I can see how the resurgence of Iowa football could have happened without Kirk Ferentz. I cannot see how it would have happened without Norm Parker.
Rest in peace, sir.
*I must confess that when I first wrote this, I wrote gravyards, which looks like it might mean "gravy yards." And then I started thinking of BHGP's caricature of Norm Parker saying something like this...
...and I'll miss that almost as much as the real guy. Almost.