By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – This is one of those occasional reminders that Iowa fans are lucky that Phil Parker apparently has no real desire to be a head coach.
Because it seems reasonable to assume that Iowa’s 57-year old defensive coordinator/defensive backs coach has had chances to be a head coach at the collegiate level, given everything Parker has accomplished as an original member of Kirk Ferentz’s coaching staff at Iowa.
Parker has withstood the temptation to leave and is now preparing for his 22nd season at Iowa whenever the start of that might be.
There hardly has been any rumors about Parker being interested in other head coaching jobs.
You figure his name would have surfaced at some point with schools from mid-level conferences such as the Mid-American Conference, but it’s hard to think of any such cases.
My reason for reminding you about Parker’s loyalty to Iowa is in response to what happened during the 2020 NFL Draft.
Iowa had five players selected in the seven-round draft, including two defensive backs.
Cornerback Michael Ojemudia was selected in the third round by the Denver Broncos, while junior safety Geno Stone was taken in the seventh round by the Baltimore Ravens.
They both made second-team All-Big Ten this past season after having been unheralded two-star recruits coming out of high school.
Indiana was the only other power five program, besides Iowa, to offer Ojemudia a scholarship, while Stone’s only power five offer came from Iowa.
Ojemudia grew up in Michigan, and has an older brother who played football for Michigan, but neither the Wolverines nor the Michigan State Spartans offered Michael a scholarship.
Stone grew up in western Pennsylvania and probably would’ve have played for Akron if Iowa hadn’t offered him a scholarship late in the recruiting process.
In both cases, Phil Parker saw talent and potential where most other coaches didn’t see it, and then was rewarded for his vision as Ojemudia and Stone both thrived as Iowa defensive backs.
Ojemudia and Stone were the 15th and 16th defensive backs from Iowa to be selected in the NFL Draft under Kirk Ferentz.
And almost all of the defensive backs who were drafted were lightly recruited and under-valued in high school.
From Bob Sanders to Micah Hyde to Desmond King to Josh Jackson to Amani Hooker, the number of Iowa defensive backs who have defied the odds and made their recruiting ranking look silly coming out of high school is absolutely amazing.
Iowa was the only power five school to offer the five aforementioned players a scholarship, and to have that many overachievers speaks volumes about Phil Parker’s ability to develop defensive backs.
It’s not that Parker focuses solely on recruiting unheralded defensive backs. He goes after some of the top defensive backs in the nation, but he doesn’t limit himself to that, because sometimes, you have to think outside the box at a developmental program like Iowa.
Sometimes, you have to take chances and look beyond all the recruiting hype and measureables.
And you have to trust your instincts, your culture and your ability to develop players.
Parker was a star defensive back at Michigan State in the 1980s, making first-team all-conference three times. He was also a ferocious hitter, so he brings instant credibility to a sport where toughness prevails.
Iowa has only had four defensive coordinators since 1979, and the previous three never became a college head coach.
Bob Elliott was considered one of the favorites to replace Hayden Fry as head coach, but health reasons kept Elliott from pursuing the job when it became available.
Elliott died of cancer in 2017 at the age of 64.
Bill Brashier was Fry’s defensive coordinator from 1979 to 1995 before retiring. Brashier was replaced by Elliott, who held the job for three seasons until Fry retired shortly after the 1998 season.
Kirk Ferentz then hired Norm Parker as his defensive coordinator and Norm Parker held that position until he retired after the 2011 season. Norm Parker also battled with health issues while at Iowa and passed away on Jan. 13, 2014 at the age of 72.
Brashier, who still lives in Iowa City, never had much of a desire to be a head coach, according to those close to him, as was the case with Norm Parker.
They both were content with running the defense and didn’t need to run a program to feel fulfilled or complete.
There is nothing wrong with those who aspire to be a head coach because most assistant coaches are determined to climb the ladder, especially those who ascend to a coordinator position.
Iowa just happens to have had three defensive coordinators over the past four decades who thought differently about climbing the coaching ladder.
Phil Parker still is young enough to where he could land a head coaching job if he so desires.
He would certainly deserve heavy consideration to succeed Kirk Ferentz at Iowa when that days comes.
But for now, Phil Parker seems content in his dual role as defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach.
He is paid well and makes more money than most head coaches at mid-level schools. He also coaches on college football's biggest stage, but without the extra burden that comes with being a head coach.
Phil Parker is highly respected and a major part of the stability and continuity that is key to Iowa’s success under Kirk Ferentz.
Iowa’s defensive backs are proof that it doesn’t matter how many scholarship offers you have because it only takes one offer to create an opportunity.
And when that one offer comes from Iowa, it often is the start of something special due largely to Phil Parker’s influence.