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Pat Harty: Norm Parker turned adversity into daily celebration

[ 0 ] January 13, 2014 |

Former Iowa defensive coordinator Norm Parker left our world early Monday morning to be with his son in a better place.

News of his death at the age of 72 wasn’t necessarily a shock. Parker already was living on borrowed time due to the debilitating effects of diabetes.

“God had been trying to get him up in Heaven for a long time,” former Iowa defensive lineman and West High graduate Tyler Luebke said. “Norm fought everything that was dealt to him.”

We can assume that Parker’s late son, Jeff, was the first person to greet his father in heaven with a warm embrace and maybe even a joke or two. As great as Norm Parker was at being a football coach, he was a better person and a better father.

Instead of being bitter or feeling sorry for himself about Jeff being born with Down syndrome, Norm Parker turned adversity into a daily celebration. He and Jeff, who died in 2004 at the age of 33, were inseparable around Iowa City.

“I admired (their relationship) a lot,” former Iowa all-Big Ten linebacker Abdul Hodge said. “It was a great relationship. You couldn’t see one without seeing the other. They were like best friends.”

The only thing Norm Parker did better than build defenses was build relationships with the people close to him. He was a man’s man, an inspiration, a guide.

Parker also was master storyteller with a unique sense of humor. He could make you laugh without even trying.

Parker never had a burning desire to be a head coach. His ego didn’t need the attention, nor was he driven by money, which is rare in his profession.

Norm Parker was driven by trying to help people succeed in life. He made his living coaching football, but he lived to help others.

“Coach Parker was more than just a coach, he was sort of a father figure,” said Hodge, who works in the computer software business in his hometown of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “He taught us a lot more than football. He instilled toughness and he taught us a lot of different aspects about life and being a man and what it takes to be successful.”

Former Iowa linebacker James Morris, who grew up in Solon, was so upset over the news of Parker’s death that he couldn’t speak publicly about it Monday. His father, Iowa equipment manager Greg Morris, tried to console James by reminding him about the reunion that just took place in heaven.

“James and I just talked about that,” Greg Morris said Monday afternoon. “Regardless of what people may think, Norm is extremely happy right now because he and Jeff are laughing together.”

Norm Parker touched James Morris’ life in so many ways. James grew up around the Iowa football program, so he started associating with Parker on a regular basis long before he became a Hawkeye in 2010.

“It’s a tough deal for him because Norm sometimes considered James his son, too,” Greg Morris said. “There is no doubt about that.”

Greg Morris said you always knew where you stood with Norm Parker.

“I just really always appreciated that because Norm was always a man of honesty and reality,” Greg said. “That’s the best way that I could describe him. You were always going to get the truth from Norm.”

Parker was more comfortable working behind the scenes. He didn’t crave the spotlight unless it shined on one of his players.

“Norm cared about his players more than he cared about himself,” said former Iowa linebacker George Lewis, who now works as a school board member in his hometown of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “He was a players’ coach. He always did something to make us laugh.”

Parker had an uncanny ability to relate to people from all different walks of life. And he was loyal to the end.

“Not a lot of people have the ability to connect with different people from different backgrounds,” Hodge said. “But he had that charisma and a certain attitude and a personality that he could make you feel comfortable.”

Hodge uses much of what he learned from Parker to raise his 4-year old son Abdul Hodge Jr. and to inspire his brother, who has a son with Down syndrome. Hodge often tells his brother stories about the bond between Norm and Jeff to serve as inspiration.

“It was one of the great stories coming through Iowa,” Hodge said of the relationship between Norm Parker and his son.

The stories about Norm Parker will last forever, as will his positive influence, handed down from one generation to another.

Parker didn’t have much time to enjoy his retirement, which came after the 2011 season. But at least now he has forever to enjoy his son.

Reach Pat Harty at 339-7370 or pharty@press-citizen.com.

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Pat Harty: Columnist Pat Harty has been covering the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Press-Citizen since 1991. Originally from Des Moines, he currently writes columns and covers Hawkeye men's basketball for Hawk Central. View author profile.

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