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Harty: Parker steps down with dignity and grace

[ 26 ] December 11, 2011 |

Being good at what you do for your life’s work doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll know when it’s time to stop doing it.

Some people simply can’t stop doing what has defined them for so long and they end up overstaying their welcome or embarrassing themselves against younger and better competition.

Nobody can ever accuse Norm Parker of that.

His announcement that he will retire as the Iowa defensive coordinator after coaching in the Dec. 30 Insight Bowl against Oklahoma hardly was a surprise.

Common sense told you that it was coming soon unless Parker went out of his way to delay the inevitable.

Thankfully, he didn’t do that.

Parker put the team and his body, which has been ravaged by diabetes, above his ego and stepped down with dignity and grace.

Rumors about Parker retiring have circulated for several years now, fueled by his ongoing health issues and by his age. He turned 70 in October.

The rumors gained momentum during the summer and fall. And it was easy to understand why after you saw how difficult it was for Parker just to get around.

His days of coaching from the sideline were long gone but so too was his ability to walk without assistance, the result of having part of his leg amputated.

And it wasn’t like his body was going to make some dramatic comeback. Diabetes isn’t like a football game or a political career.

It’s a debilitating disease that requires a full-time commitment to withstand the damage, especially for somebody of Parker’s advanced age.

Parker last week was voted assistant coach of the year by his peers in the American Football Coaches Association. It makes you wonder if they knew the end was near and wanted to send him off with a well-deserved lifetime achievement award.

Parker now has to remind himself that he’s so much more than just a football coach. He’s a husband, father, grandfather and friend to many.

The game will be with him forever, but it no longer has to consume him.

Parker might discover that retirement isn’t so bad. He might actually enjoy spending a Saturday in the fall without having to worry about containing a spread offense and a bunch of speedy receivers.

And even though his retirement was no surprise, it’ll still be weird to see the Iowa defense being led by somebody besides Parker.

He didn’t spend a lot time dealing with the media and he never seemed comfortable under the spotlight. But Parker always made reporters laugh with a sense of humor as dry as a desert.

Kirk Ferentz has become one of the greatest coaches in the history of the Iowa program, but he’d be the first to say that he couldn’t have done it without Parker running the defense since day one.

The Iowa defense that has struggled throughout this season is nothing like the defenses that lifted the program to elite status under Ferentz.

Under Parker’s direction, Iowa has finished ranked among the top 10 nationally in rushing defense five times.

His defenses also earned a reputation for being tough and physical and fundamentally sound. They would sometimes bend but rarely break.

As for life after Parker, don’t be surprised if Ferentz hires from within. It’d be a surprise if he didn’t.

The most logical scenario would have defensive backs coach Phil Parker (no relation to Norm) being promoted to defensive coordinator and former Hawkeye defensive end LeVar Woods being promoted from administrative assistant to defensive backs coach.

Phil Parker has been at Iowa throughout the Ferentz era as an original member of the staff. Phil Parker has bided his time for 13 seasons and had the luxury of learning under one of the top defensive coordinators in the business.

If Phil Parker doesn’t get promoted now, it seems unlikely that he ever would.

A rumor has festered throughout the season that former Hawkeye defensive back and recently fired Arizona coach Mike Stoops would be hired as the new Iowa defensive coordinator.

The timing is right with Stoops now unemployed and with Iowa looking for a new a defensive coordinator. The fit just doesn’t seem right when you consider what it would cost to hire Stoops and how his presence might affect the chemistry on the staff.

So look for the Mike Stoops-to-Iowa rumor to stay as a rumor until somebody else gets hired.

Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Pat Harty: Columnist Pat Harty has been covering the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Press-Citizen since 1991. Originally from Des Moines, he currently writes columns and covers Hawkeye men's basketball for Hawk Central. View author profile.

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