Kirk Ferentz knows just what to say when the subject is Norm Parker
Originally published on 5/29/2014
Preparing for a football game requires painstaking detail. So does writing a eulogy for a friend and beloved former assistant coach.
Kirk Ferentz, entering his 16th season as Iowa's head coach, has experienced both. He gave a eulogy for his longtime defensive coordinator, Norm Parker, in January.
Ferentz will repeat the eulogy Saturday when the University of Iowa athletic department holds a Norm Parker Celebration of Life service starting at 1 p.m. in Kinnick Stadium.
"The one thing for sure is you don't want to blow it," Ferentz said in an interview with the Des Moines Register this week. "A person of Norm's caliber, you want to make sure you do it justice."
Parker, who retired as Iowa's defensive coordinator after the 2011 season, passed away Jan. 13. He was 72. Parker spent more than four decades coaching college football at eight schools
"He impacted an awful lot of folks," Ferentz said. "It wasn't just the defensive players. That was a big part of my thinking when we hired Norm, too. When we hit bumpy waters, which you always do, it's going to be pretty hard to rock his boat, just because he was one of those guys. He could put a good spin on things."
Ferentz was one of three speakers at Parker's January funeral at St. Mary Catholic Church in Chelsea, Mich.
Ferentz's tribute touched on three things — family, coaching and Parker's love for life — as well as several memorable Hawkeye victories.
Ferentz's eulogy "summarized Norm's life to the fullest," said John Streif, who worked as a trainer and travel coordinator at Iowa for 40 years before his retirement in 2012. "I thought it was pretty tremendous."
Parker's son, Jeffrey, who had Down syndrome, became a fixture in the Iowa football office until passing away in 2004.
"The first thing I tried to focus on was Norm as a family man, and how much that meant to him," Ferentz said. "Obviously he had a very special relationship with Jeffrey, which became a part of our lives here."
Ferentz considered his time with Parker to be a blessing.
After succeeding Hayden Fry as Iowa's coach in 1999, Ferentz picked Parker as his defensive coordinator from a list of three finalists.
"I've been fortunate, if you think about it," Ferentz said. "I worked with Bill Brashier for nine years (as an assistant at Iowa). And coming here, I kind of thought I knew what I was doing.
"I got one (decision) right, at least, hiring Norm."
Parker's love for life was legendary.
"The biggest thing about Norm — and I think that's why he was such a good coach, and why he's missed by so many — is that he loved people," Ferentz said. "He loved life, and he loved the people part of life, whether it was his coaching or whatever he did."
The Ferentz eulogy singled out three games Iowa won during the Parker era.
The first was a 27-17 victory over No. 12 Northwestern in 2000. The Wildcats were averaging 38.4 points, including 54 against Michigan two weeks earlier, and 486.3 yards of total offense. Parker's defense limited Northwestern to 17 points and 377 yards.
"I was totally thinking one thing, and he was totally thinking another," Ferentz said. "We were 180 degrees apart on what I thought we would do in that game. And I'm glad we went with his choice. He knew our team better, he knew what to do. And that was a huge win for us."
The second game was Iowa's 34-9 victory at No. 8 Michigan in 2002, a pivotal moment in the Hawkeyes' undefeated Big Ten season.
"I think we held them under 200 yards (171)," Ferentz said. "Being a Michigan State and Eastern Michigan guy, that was a big win for (Parker)."
The third game was Iowa's 24-14 victory over No. 9 Georgia Tech in the 2010 Orange Bowl, when Parker silenced the Yellowjackets' complex and potent offense.
"The bowl game was pretty special," Ferentz said.
Five times Iowa ranked in the top 10 nationally in rushing defense under Parker, who had great success despite battling diabetes. The disease didn't slow down his brilliant football mind. And his relationships with his players and fellow coaches were unwavering. He was never a "me" guy.
"And I think that's why the players respected him so much," Ferentz said. "It was never about him. It was about, 'What can we do to make this work as a team?' "
Those who attended Parker's funeral said Ferentz turned in a winning performance that January morning in Chelsea, Mich.
Former Michigan football coach Lloyd Carr crossed paths with Streif in the church parking lot after the funeral.
"You guys have a great institution," Carr told Streif, poking a finger in his chest. "And he (Ferentz) is a great leader."