Iowa Football: Who Will Replace Norm Parker as Hawks' Defensive Coordinator?
This past weekend, storied Iowa defensive coordinator Norm Parker announced his retirement, effective after the Hawks' Insight Bowl game against Oklahoma.
Parker has been with Iowa since Kirk Ferentz became the head coach in 1999.
Before that, he coached at Michigan State, Vanderbilt, East Carolina, Illinois, Minnesota, Wake Forest and his alma mater, Eastern Michigan. Parker has been working as a football coach in some capacity since 1966.
Parker has had unprecedented success with Iowa defenses, fielding a top 20 scoring defense in six of his 13 seasons.
The last two seasons have been somewhat rough—despite the fact that the Hawkeyes were indeed a top 10 scoring defense in 2010—and I have been calling for Norm's retirement since the end of the 2010 season.
However, my reasoning had nothing to do with Parker's abilities as a coach, and everything to do with his limitations as a person that could no longer handle the substantial grind of a physically intense job.
Among other things, I am thankful that Parker has had the opportunity to leave when he wanted to.
That said, the Hawks now have a significant coaching vacancy to fill.
I suspect Parker knew about this move for a while, and, by extension, I suspect Kirk Ferentz has also been aware and has been scouting his options.
The person that gets the job will never replace Parker, but as Ferentz is a defense-first coach, I also suspect he will accept nothing less than his No. 1 choice.
Mike Stoops is the brother of Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops and, like his brother, is a University of Iowa graduate, and a former graduate assistant under Hayden Fry from 1986-1991.
Stoops has been an assistant coach at Kansas State under Bill Snyder, as well as the defensive coordinator at Oklahoma under Bob Stoops.
Most recently, he was the head coach at Arizona from 2004-2011. However, he was let go after eight seasons of mediocrity.
As there has been talk of Parker retiring at the end of this season, Stoops' name has been recently linked to the Iowa DC job, as well as the currently vacant defensive coordinator jobs at Nebraska and Ohio State.
Why Stoops Won't Get the Job
For starters, Stoops runs an aggressive scheme in which he often drops his safeties into the box and leaves his cornerbacks on an island.
There are no circumstances where I can see Ferentz being okay with that scenario. He will accept some tweaks and alterations to the schemes that Parker ran, but he will not become a blitz-heavy coach any more quickly than he will adopt Oregon's rapid-fire offensive scheme.
Secondly, Ferentz values continuity in his coaching staff above all other things. There is a reason only three assistant coaches have left since 2002.
Though Ferentz knows Stoops and Stoops has connections to Iowa football, Stoops has never been involved with Ferentz's program.
Likelihood of Stoops Getting the Job: 1 percent
Spack is the former defensive coordinator at Purdue under Joe Tiller and the current head coach at Illinois State.
As has been fairly well-documented, if you go to Spack's Illinois State biography page, you will find a lengthy blurb written by Kirk Ferentz.
More notably, Purdue and Iowa are similar programs. In effect, Spack knows the ins and outs of coaching in the Big Ten and specifically, coaching and recruiting at a program like Iowa.
Why Spack Won't Get the Job
First of all, would he want the job?
Spack is the only one of the candidates that is currently working in a head coaching capacity. Yes, the Illinois State head coaching position is hardly on a level with the head man at Ohio State, but it's also not working as an assistant.
Spack has been a defensive coordinator at a Big Ten university. What would it say if he comes back to the same situation at a different school?
Secondly, as with Stoops, Spack has no connections to Iowa football or to Ferentz's program, even if he does have individual ties to and a mutual respect with Ferentz.
Likelihood of Spack Getting the Job: 1 percent
Ron Aiken was the Iowa defensive line coach from 1999-2006. Matt Roth, Colin Cole and Jonathan Babineaux, to name a few, all came through him.
Rumor had it that he had ambitions to getting the defensive coordinator position, but grew weary waiting for Norm to retire.
Before Iowa, Aiken worked at San Diego State, Texas, Vanderbilt and New Mexico, as well as a number of smaller (non-FBS/Division I) institutions.
Since leaving Iowa, he has worked as the defensive line coach for the NFL's Phoenix Cardinals.
Why Aiken Won't Get the Job
Once again, the issue of continuity comes up.
Also, would he want the job? The big difference between the NFL and college coaching is recruiting. College coaches have to actively recruit, spending many offseason nights away from their families, living out of a suitcase.
Aiken is a well-known family man that knows the recruiting grind and might not want to go back to it.
Finally, one has to wonder if it will ruffle some current coaches' feathers if Aiken were to get the job. Would Ferentz lose two assistant coaches in order to gain the one defensive coordinator?
Why Aiken Will Get the Job
He knows Ferentz and Ferentz's Iowa Hawkeyes. Moreover, he knows the grind of the college game, so nothing will surprise him.
Philosophically, he is in line with Ferentz, he knows the recruiting area, and, if rumors are true, he was interested in the job when he left at the end of 2006.
Likelihood of Aiken Getting the Job: 13 percent
Wilson has been with Iowa since 2002. He was originally the outside linebacker coach and special teams coordinator.
Nevertheless, he has coached all linebackers as well as been one of the two special teams coordinators since 2008. The reason for the expanded duties was because Norm Parker was physically unable to handle the rigors of coaching a position group.
Is it a coincidence that when Wilson took on more responsibilities—was stretched too thin—the Iowa special teams began to take a nose dive?
Regardless, before coming to Iowa, he was an outside linebackers coach and special teams coordinator at Wisconsin under Barry Alvarez. One would be left to question why he would leave one Big Ten institution to take on the exact same position at another Big Ten institution. Perhaps the more realistic potential for becoming the defensive coordinator might have played a part.
Before Wisconsin, he worked at Rutgers and Rhode Island.
Why Wilson Will Get the Job
Continuity. The transition will be seamless. He has Kirk Ferentz's and the players' absolute trust and confidence.
Moreover, he has proven himself as a quality coach, having worked directly with players such as Pat Angerer, A.J. Edds and Grant Steen.
On top of that, he is one of Iowa's best recruiters. He is not only responsible for recruiting his native New Jersey—from which sprang Shonn Greene—but he is responsible for the current pipeline that has developed between Iowa and the Baltimore-Washington D.C. area.
Likelihood of Wilson Getting the Job: 35 percent
Phil Parker has been Kirk Ferentz's defensive backs coach since Ferentz took over in 1999.
Before that, he worked as the defensive backs coach at Toledo from 1988-1998.
Previous to that, he was a graduate assistant at Michigan State, at the same time Norm Parker was an assistant coach under George Perles.
Speaking of Michigan State, Parker was a standout safety for the Spartans from 1982-1985. He was taken off the field for an extra lineman on Chuck Long's famous bootleg run in the 1985 Iowa-MSU matchup.
Why Parker Will Get the Job
Not only will the transition be seamless for the coaches and players, but casual fans and lazy announcers won't have to adjust their game-day notes. They can keep referring to defensive coordinator Parker, just as they've been doing for the past 13 years.
Kidding aside, Parker has more than proved his stability—two coaching gigs since 1988 in the modern football world?
He has also proven his abilities as a coach. Bob Sanders, Marcus Paschal, Sean Considine, Charles Godfrey, Amari Spievey, Bradley Fletcher, Tyler Sash—Iowa has been known for its abilities to develop linemen on both sides of the ball, but the Hawks and specifically Parker have done a tremendous job with defensive backs.
It is even more impressive when one considers that only one of the aforementioned backs—Tyler Sash—was considered anything more than a 2-star prospect out of high school (Sash was a 3-star prospect). Now, all of them are enjoying sustained careers in the NFL.
Likelihood of Parker Getting the Job: 50 percent
How Things Will Shake out
Phil Parker will get the job.
The question is will that cause Darrell Wilson to consider looking for work elsewhere. The reality is if 48-year-old Parker becomes the defensive coordinator, he will, in all probability, be the Iowa DC through the duration of Kirk Ferentz's tenure as coach.
That leaves Wilson with the option of continuing on as Iowa's linebacker coach, or going somewhere else if he has loftier career ambitions.
Of course, if Wilson were to get the job over Parker, it would leave Parker with the same dilemma. And if Aiken were to get it over both of them, then both Parker and Wilson would have some soul-searching to do.
Either way, I can't know what each man wants from his coaching career.
I do know a new spot on the staff will open with Norm Parker gone and Phil Parker as the DC.
Needless to say, Ferentz will have plenty of options.
He could devote a spot to a full-time quarterback coach, leaving offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe to devote all of his time to coming up with the perfect end around.
He could hire a full-time special teams coordinator, though that seems unlikely.
I think Ferentz will promote LeVar Woods to inside linebacker coach.
Woods, a class of 2000 Iowa graduate, has been working as a Hawkeye administrative assistant since 2008. In 2010, when Norm Parker was unable to coach due to health issues, the Hawks were allowed to have Woods fill in.
With Woods taking over the inside linebackers, Wilson will be able to focus his attention strictly on outside linebackers and the special teams. Hopefully, this will restore Iowa special teams to what we knew in the early part of the Ferentz era.