Pat Harty: Phil Parker is right where he needs to be

Pat Harty

While most of Hawkeye Nation obsesses over the two-headed quarterback situation and Greg Davis' perceived obsession with going sideways on offense, Phil Parker quietly goes about his business.

Parker is the Iowa football team's other coordinator, the one on defense who has been with Kirk Ferentz since the beginning at Iowa, and whose current defense is without question the team's strength after five games.

Parker is the one who faced the daunting task of replacing the beloved Norm Parker (no relation) as the Iowa defensive coordinator after the 2011 season.

Norm Parker, who died on Jan. 13 at the age of 72, endeared himself to Iowa fans with his wit and with his compassion for people, but mostly because his defenses were highly effective. Norm's defenses were tough and hard-nosed and had far more substance than style, much like their leader.

Nothing really has changed.

Phil Parker, 51, doesn't have Norm's laid-back personality or Norm's gift for gab, but Phil does have a gift for molding and building defenses. Never has that been more apparent than now with his current defense, which many felt was the biggest concern heading into the season due mostly to having to replace three all-Big Ten-caliber linebackers.

But with the exception of surrendering a few big plays against Northern Iowa in the season opener and being shredded on the ground by Pittsburgh in the first half on Sept. 20, the Iowa defense has been stellar.

"I think we've got the pieces of our defense, and the guys in the right spot right now," Phil Parker said at a Tuesday press conference featuring both of Iowa's coordinators in a bye week. "We're really working good as a team. The communication has been better. We're playing a lot more guys during the game."

Purdue quarterback Danny Etling probably would agree with that assessment. He was sacked four times and pressured in the pocket too many times to count during Iowa's 24-10 victory Saturday in West Lafayette, Ind. Etling passed for only 61 yards, with 15 of his 26 attempts falling incomplete. Purdue was held to just 165 yards and punted nine times.

It looked like Phil Parker's men against Purdue's boys.

Parker's gang kept pursuing until the end, when senior strong safety John Lowdermilk took a knee after intercepting a pass instead of trying to score a touchdown, out of respect for the opposing coach.

It's easy to say that it was only lowly Purdue, but to dominate any Big Ten opponent in the fashion that the Iowa defense did Saturday is a worthy accomplishment.

My guess is Norm Parker, with his son Jeff at his side, looked down from Heaven on Saturday at the Purdue mauling with tremendous pride.

Phil Parker, much like Norm, speaks softly, but his words come through loud and clear. Phil also has been known to raise his voice and get excited during the heat of the moment, especially when a player makes a mental mistake. But Phil seems to know how to balance being tough with being fair and compassionate, hardly an easy juggling act.

Phil also knows the game from a strategic standpoint after coaching under Norm Parker for 13 seasons at Iowa. Phil had the luxury of being around one of the best in the business for more than decade and we're now seeing the results.

Another thing Phil Parker has is respect, because he's been there and done it before as a star player in the Big Ten.

Phil made first-team all-Big Ten three times in the mid-1980s as a hard-hitting defensive back for Michigan State. His reputation as a bone crusher proceeded him as Phil was considered one of the Big Ten's hardest hitters.

He was same kind of violent football player that he described Iowa junior defensive end Nate Meier as being Tuesday.

But Phil seemed uncomfortable when asked to reflect on his days as a violent football player. He quickly shifted to self-deprecation mode, much like Ferentz does.

"I don't know," Phil Parker said. "I couldn't cover anything."

Phil also showed a funnier side Tuesday when asked if he could ever see himself being an offensive coordinator. He was asked in response to Davis joking earlier about how his life would be easier as a defensive coordinator.

Phil referred to some information apparently given to him by Iowa recruiting coordinator Seth Wallace.

"Well, Seth Wallace had a stat that offensive coaches live longer, 10 years longer. So I think I'm already affected by the first 26 or 27 years," Phil said with the slighest grin. "So I don't think I'm going to expand my lifespan. But sometimes we think about it, it might be easier. But I love what we do, trying to stop guys. That's what we do. It was an interesting stat, though."

Phil Parker is right where he belongs until he decides to pursue a head coaching job, if he so desires. Norm Parker never had that aspiration, but Phil Parker has his own goals and his own path to carve.

If this season is an audition, Phil Parker is positioning himself for a leading role somewhere.

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