By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – I once asked Hayden Fry if he had any regrets about his two decades as the Iowa football coach, and he paused for a few seconds before saying something that caught me by surprise.
“I sometimes think I should’ve retired when Bill did,” Fry said in 2005.
Fry was referring to his close friend and long-time defensive coordinator Bill Brashier, who retired from coaching after Iowa’s 38-18 victory over Washington in the 1995 Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas.
Brashier retired much like he coached, with little publicity and with even less need for it.
For Brashier, it was all about doing the job, and never was about him.
He didn’t need attention, nor did he look for it.
He just coached defense and mentored young men to the best of his ability.
Fry, who passed away in 2019 at the age of 90, often would credit Brashier for making his job as head coach much easier because Fry didn’t have to worry about defense, or invest much time in it, because Brashier was a master tactician and teacher and had everything under control.
Iowa won the Big Ten title in 1981 and played in the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1959 behind a suffocating defense and the punting of Reggie Roby.
There was talent and experience on defense when Fry took over, and the players were fed up with losing. They just needed the right leader to bring out their best, and that was Brashier.
I never realized how important having the right leverage was on defense until listening to Brashier explain it during an interview at his house in Iowa City about a decade ago.
Angles of pursuit, leverage, tendencies, there are so many little things that go into coaching defense, and Brashier was a master at teaching those things.
I’m not even sure why I chose to write this column about Brashier on this last day of June, and with the start of the 2021 season still two months away.
A recent interview with former Iowa defensive back Desmond King in which he talked about how Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker has impacted his life could be what triggered it.
I thought about Brashier as King talked about Phil Parker’s influence because the narrative was so similar to what Brashier’s players have said about him over the years.
I also thought about how fortunate Iowa football has been to only have had four defensive coordinators since 1979: Brashier, Bobby Elliott, Norm Parker and Phil Parker.
Sadly, Bobby Elliott and Norm Parker have both passed away, while Brashier turned 92 on May 30.
Some former Iowa coaches and players had a birthday celebration for Brashier, who still lives in the same house in which he has lived for decades on the east side of Iowa City.
Fry often would say that he hired assistant coaches who aspired to be head coaches because he felt they were hungry and willing to work extremely hard, and that approach helped to produce one of the greatest coaching trees in the history of college football.
From Kirk Ferentz to Barry Alvarez to Bill Snyder to Dan McCarney to Bob Stoops, the list of former Fry assistants who became successful Division I head coaches, and in some cases coaching legends, is long and distinguished.
But then there’s Brashier, for whom Fry wisely made an exception.
Brashier and Fry were born three months apart in Eastland, Texas in 1929. Brashier came with Fry from North Texas shortly after the 1978 seasons, and then Brashier stayed in Iowa City after having retired.
Brashier could’ve used Iowa as a springboard to a head coaching job, and he reportedly turned down several opportunities to be a head coach.
Brashier didn’t need to run a program to please his ego and feel fulfilled, just the defense.
It was the same with Norm Parker during his time as Kirk Ferentz’s defensive coordinator from 1999 to 2011, and now also with Phil Parker as Ferentz’s defensive coordinator since 2012.
The 58-year old Phil Parker is an original member of Ferentz’s staff at Iowa, together for 22 seasons and with no signs of it ending anytime soon.
It’s reasonable to assume that Phil Parker has turned down head coaching opportunities, and that more opportunities will come in the future, maybe even at Iowa when Kirk Ferentz decides to retire.
Phil Parker would certainly deserve serious consideration for the Iowa job.
His defenses almost always rank among the best in the Big Ten, and his work in developing defensive backs has been nothing short of extraordinary with 16 of them having been selected in the NFL draft since 2000.
But it’s also what Phil Parker does away from the playing field that makes him special.
“Coach Parker, he was definitely a father figure to me when I came in, someone who definitely took me under their wing and showed me the daily basic things in life to just carry myself as a man,” Desmond King said on June 19 while running a youth football camp City High School. “And not just as a player, but as a man, and as a person.”
I can’t tell you many times I’ve heard former Iowa players say the same about Brashier’s influence.
Fans and the media only see the action on the field, but what happens away from the field is just as important, and in some ways, more important.
Iowa has been blessed to have had four top-notch defensive coordinators over the past four decades.
Bobby Elliott’s players absolutely adored him and vice versa. He could be tough when he had to be, but Elliott loved his players and they knew it and loved him back.
Bobby Elliott left us far too soon, having passed away from cancer in 2017 at the age of just 64.
I attended his memorial service and remember being in tears as his life was celebrated.
That day had to be excruciating for Elliott’s father, former Iowa Athletic Director Bump Elliott, because I couldn’t begin to imagine the pain from having to bury one of your children.
Bump Elliott passed away on Dec. 7, 2019 at the age of 94.
Bobby Elliott was thought be the head coach in waiting for when Fry retired, but health issues prevented Elliott from being considered for the job in 1998.
One of the best decisions Kirk Ferentz made after being hired as the Iowa head coach was hiring Norm Parker as defensive coordinator.
Like with Fry and Brashier, Ferentz didn’t have to concern himself much with defense because he had total trust and faith in Norm Parker, and the results to prove it.
Fry and Ferentz are the only head coaches to lead a Division I football program for at least 20 years, consecutively.
And they were able to do it largely because of the stability at defensive coordinator.