Norm Parker remained hospitalized Tuesday afternoon and the only thing clear about when he’ll return to run Iowa’s defense again is it won’t be Saturday at Arizona.
The 68-year-old defensive coordinator for the Hawkeyes checked into University Hospitals and Clinics last week. He missed Iowa’s victory against Iowa State — the fourth game in seven years he has sat out because of his battle with diabetes — and coach Kirk Ferentz said Parker won’t be with the ninth-ranked Hawkeyes (2-0) when they play Saturday night against the No. 24 Wildcats (2-0).
“We’ll know more as we go along,” Ferentz said. “He’s diabetic and diabetes is a very serious disease. I think everybody’s interest and approach right now is: What do we need to do today to make sure we’re not making anything worse? That’s the reason he was hospitalized, and they’re going to make sure we’re staying on top of it.
“To me, football is really secondary right now in this equation. I don’t know if we’re talking about days or weeks. I don’t know that, I don’t know if anybody knows that right now, but whenever he’s ready to come back we’ll get him back and go. In the meantime, we’ll proceed without him.”
Parker had never missed a game in his first 35 seasons of coaching. But he was diagnosed with an infected toe during a summer vacation in 2004 in Michigan. He was flown back to Iowa and admitted the next day into UIHC. He underwent vascular surgery and had a toe amputated.
Parker coached the first two games of that season from his hospital room, watching the games on television and calling Iowa’s locker room at halftime. He didn’t make Iowa’s trip to Arizona that year, either. The Hawkeyes lost 44-7 at Arizona State.
Parker returned to practice the following week. When a reporter asked how he handled watching the loss on television, the comical coordinator said: “I wanted to drink, but I knew that wasn’t the answer. You grin and bear it. It’s happened before. It’s part of coaching.”
The Hawkeyes won the Big Ten title that season. Parker had another toe amputated last season. He joked that he didn’t want to make it an annual practice if Iowa won another conference crown.
It’s been an ongoing battle since then. Parker has been in a cast for the majority of the months since last July. Ferentz estimated Tuesday that it’s been 11 of the last 14 months. Parker guessed in August that he’s had the cast changed close to 20 times in hopes that the sore on his foot will heal.
Parker started coaching from the press box last October and the plan was to keep him off the sidelines this season.
“He kind of hit the wall after the Michigan State game (last season) and it hasn’t gone away,” Ferentz said. “At this point, I know this: He won’t coach this week. I hope we get him back as soon as possible.”
Ferentz said the Hawkeyes have braced for the possibility they might have to do without Parker.
“Going back to 2004, I think it would be silly if we didn’t give that some thought or I hadn’t given that some thought,” he said. “I think we’ve all been prepared for either case. It’s like when a player gets hurt, you have to push through, so that’s what we’re doing.”
Ferentz didn’t go in-depth on how Parker’s responsibilities will be divided in his absence. He said it will be a collaborative staff effort and said Parker likely won’t be involved in game planning for Arizona.
“Norm’s our coordinator and he’s done a lot for our program from a defensive standpoint,” Ferentz said. “He’s made a million contributions and not just football. It’s like losing a star player. But when you lose one, somebody has to step up. We’ve got a lot of very capable people here and they’re all going to pitch in and get it done.”
Iowa’s three other defensive coaches — Phil Parker (secondary), Darrell Wilson (linebackers) and Rick Kaczenski (defensive line) — have collectively spent 27 seasons with the Hawkeyes. Both Parkers have been at Iowa for all 12 seasons of the Ferentz era.
“Our defensive coaching staff has been here for a long time,” linebacker Tyler Nielsen said. “They’re going to put together a great game plan.”
Junior strong safety Tyler Sash said he visited Parker in the hospital Monday. He said Parker wanted to talk about football instead of his health.
“A lot of our base things that we will run are still in,” Sash said. “I know the assistant coaches have talked to Norm and I’m sure he’s put in his input with what he feels the game plan should be.”
It doesn’t hurt, either, that Iowa’s defense features six seniors and four juniors.
“It’s really important on every level,” Ferentz said. “We have a pretty veteran group playing out there on the field, which is important, and we’ve got a veteran staff too. We won’t have any excuses for not playing well this week.”
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football