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Harty: Ceremony a tribute to Norm Parker’s legacy

[ 0 ] May 31, 2014 |

Norm Parker would object to this column and to the big fuss that was made over him Saturday at Kinnick Stadium.

It never was about Norm during the near half century that he spent coaching football, including his last 13 seasons as the defensive coordinator at Iowa from 1999 to 2011. He didn’t crave the spotlight, nor was he driven by the almighty dollar or by the desire to be a head coach.

Parker, who died Jan. 13 at the age of 72, was driven by wanting to do his job to the best of his ability. He was driven by helping to turn teenagers into productive young men and by being a good husband and father.

And when you do those things as well as Parker did, and for as long as he did under difficult circumstances, the people whose lives you impacted feel a need to say thanks with the kind of tribute that was held Saturday in Parker’s honor.

“It was always about the team, it was always about the program and never about Norm and what he could do and all the benefits he brought,” said former Iowa all-Big Ten linebacker Chad Greenway, who is entering his ninth season in the NFL as a member of the Minnesota Vikings. “He was an amazing man. And I’m just proud to have learned a lot from him.”

Saturday’s ceremony, which was called Norm Parker Celebration of Life, lasted for about an hour-and-a-half and featured 10 guest speakers, including Greenway, former Hawkeye and recently retired NFL all-Pro defensive end Aaron Kampman, former all-Big Ten linebacker Abdul Hodge, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz and Parker’s son, Jim Parker.

Emotions swayed from laughter to tears as each of the 10 speakers talked about how Norm Parker impacted their lives and about what made him special. They described Parker as an outstanding and dedicated football coach but an even better family man and friend, unselfish to the end.

“It was always about other people,” said Kampman, who ended the ceremony by leading the audience in a prayer. “He was an unselfish person who tried to give more than he received and because of that you get to see the fruits of it here.”

That was the prevailing message to take away from Saturday’s ceremony: Norm Parker lived his life to help others and did so in a way that earned respect and admiration.

That was never more evident than when former Iowa assistant coach Eric Johnson stepped to the lectern Saturday as the fifth speaker to share his thoughts about Parker. Johnson, who just recently left his coaching position to enter the restaurant business, was overcome by emotion. He paused for a few seconds to gather himself, but his tears spoke loud and clear.

“Everybody has kind of said the same thing,” said Johnson, who came with Parker from Vanderbilt University to join the Iowa staff in 1999. “And I think that is what truly shows you the impact of a person and what type of teacher and mentor he is for all of us.”

Football was very good to Norm Parker and vice versa. He respected the game and the toughness that was needed to play it effectively.

But he didn’t let football define him, nor did he coach at the expense of his family.

One of my lasting images of Norm Parker is seeing him together with his son Jeff, who was born with Down syndrome and died in 2004 at the age of 33. They were inseparable, even during practice, because Norm wouldn’t have it any other way.

As great as Norm Parker was at coaching football, it pales in comparison to what he accomplished as a father. He brought so much joy and happiness to Jeff’s short life, and it was inspiring to watch from a distance.

“The number one memory I’ll always have is when his son Jeff would break down our huddle,” said Greenway, who played at Iowa from 2002-05. “Norm just took so much pride in that.”

Resilient was another word used Saturday to describe Norm Parker and deservedly so. It was sad seeing his body ravaged by the effects of diabetes, but you also were inspired by how he persevered and stayed positive.

Parker had a unique way of expressing himself by using phrases that are called Norm-isms. Nine of his most popular Norm-isms were printed on the back of the program that was handed out before Saturday’s ceremony.

He enjoyed telling stories and jokes, but without being overbearing. Parker chose his words carefully, but there always was a message to be heard.

Shortly after his death, former Iowa defensive lineman and West High graduate Tyler Luebke summed up Norm Parker’s influence perfectly on Twitter.

“It’s going to be harder to get into Heaven now that Norm Parker is running their defense,” Luebke said.

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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