SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Norm Parker, a son of Big Ten football, sat in the splendor of a glorious Phoenix afternoon Tuesday, his coaching career ticking down to literally hours, and talked of his final game.
The Oklahoma-Iowa Insight Bowl.
Dismiss its import if you wish. But Iowa's 70-year-old retiring defensive coordinator is fired up.
“I've never played against Oklahoma,” Parker said. “As a kid, I always admired Oklahoma. It's a thrill to play Oklahoma.”
If the Sooners can be as jacked playing for OU as Parker seems to be coaching against OU, the Big Red should be OK.
But don't sleep on Iowa. The Hawkeyes appear to be zoned in out here in the desert, and they've even got a cause for which to play.
Send their beloved coach out with a victory.
Parker, defensive coordinator for all 13 years of the Kirk Ferentz era, is the Gomer Jones of Iowa football. Or the Bobby Proctor, if you prefer later Sooner vintage. A trusty lieutenant who defines stability and tradition.
Iowa's defenders, especially, want to see Parker go out in style.
“We want to send him out right,” said senior linebacker Tyler Nielsen. “He's deserving of going out right.”
Defensive tackle Mike Daniels said he was getting emotional even before Parker announced his retirement a couple of weeks ago.
“Coach Parker means everything,” Daniels said. “Even the fact I was graduating, knowing he would never coach me again, was hard to swallow.”
Parker is old school, as you might have guessed, and shrugs off such sentimentality.
“The game has nothing to do with me,” Parker said. “I'm just along for the ride. It's been a nice ride.”
Literally. Parker is sitting in a cushy golf cart, from which he often coaches since the amputation of his right foot in September 2010, the result of diabetes.
Strange that a coach who has spent 33 of the last 40 seasons coaching in the Big Ten — at Minnesota and Illinois and Michigan State and now Iowa — will conduct his final practice at Chaparral High School, which has outdoor student lockers, and coach his final game at a place called Sun Devil Stadium.
Parker is one of those football lifers. Grew up in the Detroit suburb of Hazel Park, played football at Eastern Michigan and became head coach at St. John's High School in Ypsilanti, Mich., in 1965.
“Coaching football is like teaching a class,” Parker said. “The best teachers are the best coaches. Take a young guy, try to motivate him.
“Repetition, repetition, repetition. Kids learn through repetition. That's how you learn your ABCs, how you learn to count, how you learn to stop a play.”
Parker has done it well. Iowa's defenses have ranked in the top 10 nationally five times in Parker's 13 years, and his defenses always seem to be ready for bowl games. The last three seasons, Iowa has won bowls: 27-24 over 12th-ranked Missouri, 24-14 over No. 9 Georgia Tech and 31-10 over South Carolina.
“He's forgot more football than most people know,” Nielsen said. “He's going to be missed.”
The Hawkeyes say they will most miss his analogies. How any Iowa turnover turns Parker's defenders into firefighters. Gotta go put out the fire, Parker will say.
Cornerback Shaun Prater said Parker is a “coach who I can always go to. Seems like he knows every single question. Where to blitz, how do I use my leverage. He always knows the answer.”
And Friday night it ends for Parker. He doesn't seem melancholy. Sitting in his golf cart in the Arizona sun, Parker was just as excited to talk about Oklahoma as he was Iowa.
“I remember when Oklahoma played Notre Dame (1957) and the winning streak got stopped,” Parker said. “I was a football fan also. I really liked college football. Oklahoma was king of the mountain.”
Now the Sooners get the honor of sharing the field for Parker's final game. Beware his charm; he won't go out easy. The Hawkeyes will see to that.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.