Since last July, they’ve changed the giant cast on his right foot 20 times. Give or take.
“This one, they put on last Monday,” Norm Parker explained, leaning forward as he sat inside a golf cart that shielded him from the August sun. “And they’re going to take it off this Monday and look and see how the sore is. And if the sore’s not healed enough, they put another cast on.”
Iowa football media day was Friday, which meant another round of reporters surrounding the Hawkeyes’ longtime defensive coordinator and peppering him with questions about his future — and his health. Of course, this time, there was an added twist: The publisher of a Hawkeye website posted on his Twitter feed Monday morning that he was “hearing” that the 2010 season will be Norm’s last. Say it ain’t so.
“I don’t have any intentions of retiring or any of that stuff,” Parker said Friday. “I heard that was a (rumor), but there was no truth to that. Probably the only two ways I’ll leave is (either) they’ll carry me out or Kirk (Ferentz) will fire me.”
OK. So where did the story come from?
“I have no idea,” Parker said. “Maybe they’re trying to get rid of me.”
Fat chance. As he starts his 43rd season as a collegiate coach, ol’ Norm remains at the top of his game. If you need any more proof, just pop in a tape of the Orange Bowl from eight months earlier. Besides, who can we scribes turn to for nuggets on subjects such as …
Preseason two-a-days: “It’s like going into a coma for two weeks,” Parker said. “It’s like a year of your life has been gone. After a while, you don’t even know what day it is.”
Dirt-track racing: “I think I like the noise. I like the dirt and I like the people that go to ’em, because they’re sort of like me. I’m not really what you would call a sophisticate. I’d be a good hillbilly.”
Technology: “You talk about the Facebook and the Twitter — I’m the last guy in the world (to use that). I don’t even know how to work the remote on the television at home, let alone Twitter. I would not know the first thing about it. Like my grandkids, they say, ‘Papa, you’re a dinosaur.’ ”
He’s a treasure. A classic. Although Monday’s Norm rumor did raise a couple of interesting points. First, how long does Parker, who’s lost two toes to diabetes this decade and is battling sores, figure to keep fighting the good fight?
Second — and no one wishes this upon the man or upon the program — is there a succession plan of any kind in place? In 2004, while Norm was recovering from surgery, linebackers coach Darrell Wilson, defensive backs coach Phil Parker (no relation) and then-defensive line coach Ron Aiken combined to collaborate on the defensive calls.
“No, I don’t think there’s ever been (a plan),” the younger Parker said of, heaven forbid, a post-Norm world. Phil’s worked under Norm in Iowa City the last 12 seasons and played for him at Michigan State. “Just the camaraderie of the staff — it’s fun being in that room. But what do you do, you know? What do you do when you retire?”
More to the point, Norm still can’t picture himself doing anything else. Of retirement, he chuckled: “That’s a scary thought. I like to fish. I like to golf. (I) probably would volunteer at some high school (coaching). Just be around the … locker room.”
Parker is 68. He has ties older than most of his players. But they love the snot out of him anyway.
If Joe Paterno can stay feisty and pilot Penn State to January bowls at 83 years young, why not?
“Who knows?” Phil Parker asked, smiling. “Maybe he’ll get (a career) as long as Joe Pa’s.”
Lord, we can only hope.