It wasn't always this easy for Norm Parker at Iowa.
After his first two years as Iowa's defensive coordinator, there were more than a few catcalls from angry fans who felt that the proud Iowa defensive tradition was withering away right before their eyes.
But Parker stuck to his guns and his 4-3 approach. With the help of the best strength and conditioning program in the nation, the 2001 Iowa Hawkeyes turned in the then 9th best rush defense performance in school history. The 2001 effort is now 10th best, thanks to last season's 2nd best all time effort, where Iowa allowed less than 82 rushing yards per game.
Though the Hawkeyes were ripped through the air early in the season, the group stuck together and was truly a force by season's end, the game against USC withstanding.
It's now 2003 and the season is just around the corner. Experts from all over the country are talking about his this Iowa defense could be Parker's best group yet at Iowa.
Here are a few comments from the man behind the Iowa defense, Norm Parker.
HTO: A lot of people are talking about how this year's defense could be among the best Iowa has had in some time. Would you agree with that?
NP: "I don't know where everybody is getting all this information from. We have a lot of guys returning. The kids seem highly motivated. If we don't get guys injured and take care of our business, we could be a decent defensive team. The new guys held their own last year (speaking of Matt Roth, Jonathon Babineaux and Howard Hodges being ‘new' to the starting role on the line). They have speed. Babineaux, Hodges and Roth can run. We lose Cole, move Babineaux inside, so that makes us faster there and we know what the other two can do at end, so if we stay healthy, we should be solid up front."
HTO: Speed on defense is important in this day and age, and your 2003 team appears to have that on their side.
NP: "I think we have decent speed. We don't have blazing speed all over the place, but we do have some guys that can run and I think our guys have some strength. We are not real big on defense, but with the job that Chris Doyle has done in the weight room, I think our players are powerful. There is not a bunch of body fat on them and they can move around a bit."
HTO: What does it say about your program when a player like Kevin Worthy, who started all of last season, comes into this year #2 on the depth chart?
NP: "Kevin goes out there each day to win a position. There is nothing guaranteed for any of them. That is one thing we have always told our team, is that we will play the guys that we feel are the 11 best players. He has three weeks to prove that he is the best player, the same as all of them."
"But that is the way it's supposed to be. The guy that he is battling with is Chad Greenway. At the end of last year's spring drills (2002), there was a real battle between those two. Then Greenway got hurt in the (2002) Spring Game, which left it to Worthy. Then all of last year Chad rehabilitated and came back in phenomenal shape and he set it in his mind that he is going to come back and take that position. There is another kid at that position named Edmond Miles and he can really fly. So it's good to have competition."
HTO: Bob Sanders came to Iowa City unheralded and some ‘experts' felt he didn't have the size to play safety. Now, he is a pre-season all American. What does that say about your program?
NP: "Bob has worked hard. When you look at it, what is the difference between a guy that is 5-foot-8 or 5-foot-10? If you hold your fingers up and show two inches, what is that? The thing with Bob is that has a 44-inch vertical leap, he is one of the two or three fastest players on this team in the 40 and he is one of the strongest kids on the team. He is a great athlete."
HTO: One of your key losses in the secondary is Derek Pagel. What can Iowa fans expect out of his heir apparent, Sean Considine?
NP: "I really think that Sean Considine is another Derek Pagel. He is a kid that walked on, extremely intelligent, probably a step faster than Pagel if you ran a sprint. I just hope that he does what Pagel did last year."
HTO: Who are some of the players that may surprise the fans this year, players who they might not expect a contribution out of, but players that are ready to play if their name is called?
NP: "In the secondary, Marcus Paschal (2nd string SS) could be a guy, Richey Williams (2nd string CB) is another guy. He sprained his ankle badly during two-a-days last year and he really was dinged up all fall, but had a good spring. He might jump up and do something. I think that Miles has a chance to do something at linebacker."
HTO: Your defense gave up a lot of passing yards this year. Do you think the added experience can help shore up that area?
NP: "I think we gave up some passing yards early, because we played some young corners. We are starting this year with more experience. As last year went on, Antwan (Allen) got more experience. If you took the beginning of this year, we should have better coverage at corners than at the start of last season."
NP: "I thought that Jared was as good a defensive lineman as we had last year. I think that Jared is a great lineman. We expect big things from him this year and he played very well last year."
HTO: One hallmark of Iowa defenses has been their physical play. Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said last year that he felt Iowa was the most physical team in the country. How do you keep up that tradition year in and year out when players move on?
NP: "I don't know how you do that. It is the kids. What is good is as a defensive team, there is some peer pressure that they put on each other, along the lines of ‘if you won't be a hitter, you can not be a part of this group'. That is the one thing that they respect: toughness in their teammate. "They all don't like each other, nobody likes everybody else, they don't have to hang around together, but they do respect if the other person is tough. That is the one common denominator that has to hold the group together."