Howe: Is Norm Still Game?

It seems like every year questions surface as to whether it will be the last season for Iowa defensive coordinator Norm Parker. With his age on the rise and his health a concern, it's fair to ask if the long-time teacher is pulling his weight.

Iowa CITY, Iowa - As the questions continued regarding the future of defensive coordinator Norm Parker, Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz became less accepting of them.

"What is this from the Internet?" Ferentz said.

Fair enough, coach.

Some knucklehead media member on the web ran with a rumor that Parker's retirement would come after last season. He learned a lesson.

Those rumblings have surfaced again this fall as an inexperienced Hawkeye defense has struggled. When former Hawkeye Mike Stoops was fired as head coach of Arizona earlier this season, speculation arose that he would be joining the staff right away as a consultant and taking over for Parker in 2012. That didn't happen.

Parker likely is enjoying this game week preparing for Nebraska's option attack. He always is up for a challenge and often solves the puzzle.

Norm is kind of like the Looney Tunes cartoon character, Wile E. Coyote, who gets up from falling off of a 5,000-foot cliff. After a while, you become desensitized to his resiliency. Although, being blown up by dynamite or having an anval drop on your head might be easier than working in a demanding coaching profession while battling debilitating diabetes as Parker has done for several years.

Ferentz said on Tuesday that he has not thought beyond this year with Parker. All the head coach would say was that his friend was doing much better than he did last season.

"He's been here every day and every hour," Ferentz said. "It's a great turnaround from last year."

Perhaps Parker has told Ferentz that 2011 is his last rodeo. You can bet if that's the case it won't be confirmed until Norm can leave with much fanfare.

Ferentz said Parker has earned the right to go out on his own terms. It would be tough to argue with that idea after his 13 seasons of contributions to a great run in Iowa football history.

It's fair to wonder, however, if Parker is pulling his weight in a program that needs every advantage it can get against the competition. He doesn't recruit. As an amputee, he's limited with what he can do on the field from a physical standpoint.

Ferentz was asked on Tuesday if it hurts not to have Parker's engaging personality out on the road recruiting. He's someone who got on the mat to wrestle former Hawkeye Ed Miles while on a visit to his Tallahassee high school last decade.

Ferentz paused for several seconds.

"Yeah, that's one of his unique and rare abilities," Ferentz said of how Norm relates to guys much younger than him.

The Iowa coach didn't finish answering the question directly. He instead said that he would prefer it if offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe stayed off the road and left the recruiting to the rest of the staff.

Ferentz believes that. Or, at least, he needs to believe it.

It does not help recruiting to have your coordinators stay home. It's hard to measure how much that setup might hurt, but it's better to have those faces in living rooms and in the stands at high school games.

We've all heard about the disadvantages of recruiting to Iowa - small population, no major metropolitan areas, etc. If Norm had been on the road recently, his personality would have resulted in convincing more prospects to visit campus.

This Iowa defense lacks the upperclassmen talent on defense more than any unit Parker has coached since 2000. That's a result of underwhelming recruiting and early departures, again, something with which Norm could have helped.

Fifth-year senior defenders Tyler Nielsen, Mike Daniels and Broderick Binns all scoffed at the idea Tuesday that Norm's limitations have hurt Iowa's ability to play defense. That was to be expected. They've grown to love the man.

"Because he's not standing on the field with us, it really doesn't mean anything," Binns said. "He's in the press box during games seeing things he relays to us. At practice, he's in the golf cart interacting with guys. I don't think we're missing anything."

Binns said that the early-season defensive woes should be attributed to inexperience and players getting used to playing together. The defensive end felt like Parker helped them gel.

It's likely we will hear more rumblings about Parker after the season. He's 70. People will wonder when he'll say enough from here to the end.

While coaches like Norm should have the right to go out on their own terms, sometimes they fail to realize when it would benefit them and the team to move on. Ferentz's loyalty would never let him admit the defense might be better off in someone the hands of someone else.

Parker provides one of the great defensive minds the college game has seen in the last 30 years to a program that needs to develop players. However, is it coming at too great a cost in areas like recruiting?

It's not an easy question to answer, but it's a fair one and one that will to continue to be asked.

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