Posted by: marcmwm | December 19, 2008

Norm makes his points

IOWA CITY — Norm Parker is the living embodiment of frank assessment.

The 66-year-old has coached football since 1965, including the last 10 seasons as Kirk Ferentz’s defensive coordinator at Iowa. He presided over one of his best Iowa defenses this season, but is showing signs of slowing down.

He admitted Thursday that he probably won’t be in the game as long as Penn State’s Joe Paterno, who recently signed a three-year contract at the age of 81.

“85? Hell no,” Parker quipped when asked if he’d be coaching that long. “85, you’d have to dig me up to coach. You’d have to open the box and get me out. That’s amazing the guy can do that. It’s amazing. It’s amazing he can do it and still have the energy to do it. I don’t know how he does it.”

The last time Iowa was in a bowl game was the 2006 Alamo Bowl. During those practices, running back Shonn Greene was tried at a safety position. Of course, it didn’t work out. Greene left school in 2007 because of academics and returned this year to win the Doak Walker Award.

Norm, what kind of safety would Greene have been?

“A big one,” Parker said of the 5-foot-11, 235-pound running back. “He’d be a big-ass safety, I’ll tell you that.”

On the topic of this season’s defense, Parker walked up to “pretty good” and then darted back to “decent.” Maybe, just maybe, that’s high praise coming from a coach with one more big effort to squeeze out of his players.

Parker pointed to Iowa’s three senior defenders — tackles Mitch King and Matt Kroul and cornerback Bradley Fletcher — as a key to this season’s success. The Hawkeyes finished third in the Big Ten in scoring defense (13.2 points a game) and total defense (289.5) and were second in rush defense (98.2).

The 13.2 points was Iowa’s lowest points allowed since 13.2 in 1997. It was the first time since 2004 that Iowa allowed less than 100 rushing yards a game. The only 100-yard rusher this season against the Hawkeyes was Maine’s Jahamal Fluellen, who came up with 104 yards mostly against reserves in the season opener.

Iowa’s 20 interceptions were its most since 2002.

“The three seniors played the best football of their careers as seniors,” Parker said. “That’s what they’re supposed to do. When a guy gets to be a senior, that’s when he’s supposed to be at his best. Those guys never thought, I have it made, I can’t get any better. You can always get better.”

Parker compared this season’s defense with the 2004 group, considered one of Iowa’s best with stars galore in end Matt Roth, linebackers Chad Greenway and Abdul Hodge and safety Sean Considine.

Outside of King and Kroul, the Hawkeyes didn’t line up stars across the board this year.

“It was just a bunch of guys who played together and, collectively, as a group, were pretty good,” he said. “Or decent. I don’t want to say pretty good. They were decent.”

Iowa went into the season with questions at both corners and ends. Fletcher (56 tackles, two interceptions and 10 pass breakups) locked down one side of the field in his first full season as a starter. Sophomore Amari Spievey was a “very pleasant surprise” on the other side, third on the team with 65 tackles and with four interceptions.

Speivey played at Iowa Central Community College last season after failing academically at Iowa in 2006. Fletcher started a handful of games last season, but really came into his own in his fifth year.

“Those two kids played well through the course of the year, but it was really hard work on their part,” he said. “Speivey had to catch up. Fletcher put his nose to the grindstone and decided he was going to be good his senior year.”

Ends Adrian Clayborn and Christian Ballard were good against the run, which is job one on a Parker defense. The combined for just 3.5 sacks, but Parker thinks that’s coming.

“These guys could be really good guys. I mean good, good guys,” Parker said. “They probably have the height, size and speed (the NFL looks for). Those guys have all those qualifications.”

This season, Parker’s duties changed. He went from coordinator and linebackers coach to just coordinator. He knew the linebackers well and was in on the ground floor with middle linebacker Pat Angerer, who went from fringe special teamer to second-team all-Big Ten and conference leader with five interceptions.

“He was a little bit premature in how he approached it in his early years,” Parker said. “All of the sudden, he decided he wanted to be a football player and he wanted to be a student and it was time for him to grow up. He grew up and he did the job.

“I think his improvement was from the shoulders up.”

Sophomore Brett Greenwood and freshman Tyler Sash also grew up on the job this season. They combined for five interceptions and 114 tackles.

“(Greenwood) has become more assertive out there,” Parker said. “The free safety has to be the quarterback out there, and here he was last year, a freshman just off the yellow school bus and he’s supposed to tell other guys what to do. That’s not easy.”

Parker said Sash is a great athlete who made strides in confidence this season.

“He really didn’t know if he was as good as the other guys,” Parker said. “All of the sudden, he’s found out practicing and everything that he’s as good as these guys. Since then, he’s started taking off and started to get a little swagger to him.

“I think those two kids are going to be excellent in the future. They’re just babies.”

As for Parker, no, he’s not a baby, but he’s feeling fine. Maybe not Joe Paterno fine, but good enough.

“I feel like I’m 20 years younger,” he said. “I’m above the ground.”

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Responses

  1. Always love a good Norm article. This one is no exception. Thanks, Marc.

    Seeing some of the hits Greene has laid on defenders this season while carrying the ball, I have no doubt that he would have been a competent defender. I’m glad it didn’t work out that way!

  2. Norm cracks me up.

  3. Norm is the man. A good guy and a great coach. Our defense has always been DAMN good with him at the helm and I like that he oversses everything now versus just the LB’s.

    KF is a damn good person when it comes to hiring people, and that includes KOK IMO.

  4. One of the funnest stories I’ve ever written was during the last trip to Tampa. Zach Gabelmann, former linebacker and special teams hammer, made Norm Parker T-shirts that were hilarious.

    I’ll look up the story and post it here later. You guys will love it.

    I think coaches, maybe mostly Ferentz, became intrigued with Greene’s striking (hitting and havoc) ability on special teams and felt they had to get him on the field. With Albert Young and Damian Sims, safety was an idea.

    A short-lived idea.


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