For this generation of fans across Big Ten country, Iowa's Kirk Ferentz represents what it means to "be Big Ten," but there was another member of his staff who truly embodies what it means to be all about the Big Ten—Norm Parker.
On Monday, it was announced that the former Iowa defensive coordinator passed away at the age of 72, according to Andrew Logue of the Des Moines Register.
News of this sort is always sad, but in this case, it doesn't just affect the Hawkeyes and the program he led as DC from 1999-2011 before retiring—it also leaves a hole in the Big Ten in general.
Condolences to Iowa football, Kirk Ferentz, the B1G on passing of former Iowa defensive coordinator Norm Parker. Great man; will be missed.— Charles Davis (@CFD22) January 14, 2014
Parker was uniquely Big Ten. For the majority of four decades, he dedicated his life to teaching kids what it meant to play defense in the Big Ten.
His Big Ten journey began in 1972 at the University of Minnesota as a defensive line coach, where he coached until 1976. He would then go on to become a defensive coordinator at Illinois (1977-79), Michigan State (1983-94) and finally at Iowa.
The things Parker has seen, done and probably forgotten are simply amazing. Think about this for a second:
Parker was around for the famed "Ten Year War" period between Ohio State and Michigan, saw Big Ten teams finally being allowed to go to bowl games outside of the Rose Bowl, was part of four Big Ten championship teams and was around for every phase of expansion in the Big Ten.
That's a lot for anyone to see or be a part of and it's hard to argue anyone has been around for more Big Ten history than Parker.
He also happened to be one of the best defensive minds the conference has ever seen. His Iowa defenses were some of the most feared groups over his 13 years in Iowa City.
Just ask former Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins, who had this to say upon hearing of Parker's passing:
Have played against many D Coordinators...I'll remember Norm Parker in a class by himself. Frustrated me repeatedly. Great Coach. May he RIP— Kirk Cousins (@KirkCousins8) January 14, 2014
Parker's talents were undeniable—he led the Iowa defense to top-10 finishes in three of four years from 2008 to 2011.
Iowa ranked in the top 10 in part because of his defenses in 2002 and 2004.
Yet Parker was never one to seek out the spotlight; instead, he was the man of few words who still managed to touch the lives of his players in profound ways. Sean Considine, a former player of his with the Hawkeyes, told Logue just what he meant to him:
Norm was just a staple. It was really impressive to see a guy his age who coached so long, still be able to relate to kids a couple generations removed from his era. Kids really wanted to play for him. They wanted to play hard for him.
As did Jordan Bernstine, who noted just how many lives Parker touched in his career, according to Logue.
“It’s hard to put into words,” said Bernstine, who played defensive back for the Hawkeyes from 2007 to 2011. “Just because he coached for so long, touched so many players. I’m still trying to even wrap my head around it.”
More than all the stats and everything he meant to his players, it's the fact that Parker was around the conference through thick and thin that stands out as his lasting legacy.
If there is ever going to be single person who embodies what it means to be Big Ten, it is Norm Parker.
The things he's seen, the people he's touched and the importance he's placed on teaching kids to become men will never be forgotten around the conference.
No one may have put it better than former Hawkeyes tight end Tony Moeaki did via Twitter:
"Boys do what they want to do, Men do what they have to do" RIP Norm Parker— Tony Moeaki (@TonyMoeaki81) January 13, 2014
As the Big Ten enters a brand new era once again, it will be sad to know Norm Parker won't be on this earth to see it happen.
May he rest in peace.
*Andy Coppens is Bleacher Report's lead writer for the Big Ten. You can follow him on Twitter: @ andycoppens.