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Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker says players told him not to change his blunt style

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

Phil Parker has been an Iowa assistant football coach for two decades, known for a blunt, old-school approach with his players.

But he deliberately turned the tables this summer after many former Hawkeyes came forward with stories indicating racial bias within the program. Parker, the team’s defensive coordinator, said he asked his players to gather by themselves and discuss ways he could do his job better.

“I asked the players to critique myself,” Parker said in a Wednesday evening interview on the “HawkCentral” radio hour on KxNO in Des Moines.

Parker said the response he received was: “Coach, don’t change.”

Phil Parker, speaking to reporters before Iowa's Holiday Bowl matchup with USC in December, is entering his ninth season as the team's defensive coordinator. He said in a radio interview Wednesday that his players told him not to change a coaching style that he acknowledges is "tough."

“They did not want me to change the way I had the passion to coach those guys,” Parker said.

They know me like I’m family. To me, that’s very important, the relationships that maybe you have. If you know you have a great relationship with a kid, you can just about say anything to the kid and the kid understands what you mean. … If you don’t have a relationship with them, it’s going to be very hard to have those tough conversations with guys.”

Parker, who played defensive back at Michigan State and has coached that position at Iowa throughout a tenure entering its 22nd season, was asked about a pointed comment that former Hawkeye safety Amani Hooker made in a tweet last month. Hooker, now with the Tennessee Titans, said it was well-known among Black players at Iowa that some coaches were antagonistic towards them.

“Too many really good players never touched the field on Saturdays because of how they were treated around the facility,” said Hooker, who was named the top defensive back in the Big Ten Conference in 2018.

►More:Amani Hooker makes 'star' position his own, and Iowa defense benefits

Parker largely sidestepped that comment, saying only: “I might not agree with how he stated that.”

Instead, Parker spoke of how hard Hooker worked to maximize his potential while at Iowa, contrasting that with Josh Jackson, a cornerback who emerged in his third season to become an all-American before being chosen by the Green Bay Packers in the second round of the NFL Draft.

“He was always on time, paid attention to details,” Parker said of Hooker.

“Josh Jackson was a guy that was on offense, came to defense, a guy that he wasn’t always punctual. … And all of the sudden it clicked on with, ‘How am I going to prepare for the game of football?’ And I saw him progress.”

► Previously:Iowa's Phil Parker nurtures talent on, off the field

Parker said it’s his job as a coach to push athletes, and he doesn’t see the need to change his style even as the program is being investigated by a law firm for possible mistreatment of Black players. So far, only longtime strength coach Chris Doyle has been removed from his position. Doyle denied claims by some ex-Hawkeyes that he was verbally abusive and racially insensitive. Parker has largely been defended by his former players on social media.

“They’re going to say I’m tough, I’m demanding, I expect. But if I don’t do that for them, I would think that I would fail them as a coach,” Parker said.

“That’s our whole goal is to kind of make sure these kids don’t get in a trap and feel sorry for themselves. ‘What do you want to achieve? Where do you want to go?’ … Some guys are happy just being OK. But there’s a lot of guys, including Amani Hooker, you look at a guy like that, and maybe he did the right thing.”

Parker said the Iowa coaching staff was planning to have a team meeting and then do separate walk-throughs with offensive and defensive players Friday, the first time they will be allowed such mandatory training time after the COVID-19 pandemic shut down in-person instruction this spring and summer. Everyone will wear masks, Parker said.

Parker said his observation this summer is that the turmoil surrounding the program has actually been beneficial for the players and coaches within it.

“The kids are very outspoken about some of the things they have concerns about. I think we addressed a lot of those. It’s really united our team a little bit, of guys being accountable to each other. And it’s been really good to us,” Parker said.

“We can’t do what we did in the past. We’ve got to change a little bit.”

Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at memmert@registermedia.com or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.

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