Former players saddened by loss of Parker

Norm Parker was widely recognized as a football savant during his long, successful coaching career.

Despite Parker’s myriad of accomplishments, two ex-Hawkeyes familiar to the area agree that the former Iowa defensive coordinator’s ability to connect with his players on a personal level will be the lasting impression left on the game he loved.

Parker died on Monday at the age of 72.

”It always amazed me that he could relate to every guy and bring all of us together, regardless of our backgrounds or where came from,” said Grant Steen, an Emmetsburg High School graduate and starting linebacker on Parker’s Orange Bowl defense of 2002. ”He was just a great, great person who had a passion for the game of football, but more importantly, a passion for building relationships with his players.

”I was fortunate to be a part of Coach Parker’s legacy at Iowa. I’m the man I am today because of my time there and the lessons I learned under (head) Coach (Kirk) Ferentz, (strength and conditioning) Coach (Chris) Doyle and of course, Coach Parker. I was blessed enough to be around my dad (former Emmetsburg coach Tom Steen) and (E-Hawk legend) Coach (Duane) Twait (in high school), then I got to Iowa and grew so much more. Looking back now, I realize how incredibly lucky I’ve been.”

Steen, who joined the Hawkeyes as a walk-on in 1999, became a two-time all-Big Ten defender before graduating in 2003. He is currently a strength and conditioning coach at the University of Southern California, after recent stints at the University of Hawaii and University of Washington.

”I received a text from Coach Doyle about (Parker’s passing), and it hit me hard,” Steen said in an phone interview from his new home in Los Angeles on Tuesday. ”I really had to stop what I was doing and compose myself. All of the memories came racing back at once.

”There were so many things he said through the years that will always stick with a lot of us (former players). I think the biggest thing I learned was that football was as much about relationships and chemistry as anything from an X’s and O’s standpoint. Also, he taught us the importance of imposing our will on our opponent; that effort and mental toughness was just as important as anything we could do schematically.”

Tyler Nielsen – a former Humboldt standout who, like Steen, started as a linebacker for the Hawkeyes – stressed the family atmosphere at Iowa under Ferentz and Parker.

”Coach (Parker) just had so much wisdom from his experiences both in coaching and just life in general,” said Nielsen, an academic all-Big Ten standout who also helped lead Humboldt to a state football championship in 2006. ”He’d forgotten more about football than most people knew. I just had so much respect for him, and I know he was also universally admired in the coaching community.

”You could apply so many things to the real world, from the hard work, to the commitment, to the leadership and taking responsibility. Coach had a saying: ‘boys do what they want to do, men do what they have to do.’ He wasn’t just turning us into (collegiate) football players, but men who could succeed beyond our playing days.”

Nielsen currently lives in Humboldt with his wife, Heather. He is employed at K.C. Nielsen, Ltd.

”It’s just hard news to take,” Nielsen said. ”I know his health had been deteriorating (Parker retired in December of 2011 after a long-standing battle with diabetes), but it still doesn’t seem possible that he’s gone.”