The Parker tradition on the Iowa defense continues.
Phil Parker is not related to the retired Norm Parker, but his elevation to Hawkeyes defensive coordinator nonetheless seems pretty seamless. Phil Parker was the defensive backs coach at Iowa for the first 13 seasons under head coach Kirk Ferentz, and now he takes over the entire defense. I had a chance to catch up with him earlier Friday, and here's what Parker had to say about becoming a coordinator after serving as a defensive backs coach since his coaching career began in 1988:
You're obviously very familiar with how the Iowa defense has been run the past 13 seasons. Do you plan on keeping things very similar to how they've been done?
Phil Parker: We'll try to continue in the same form of keeping guys from not scoring points. A lot the of same philosophies will be in there. If it's not broke, don't fix it. We might have a different way of looking at things because there's a different group of guys in the room and they might have some different ideas that we'll explore. But obviously the fundamental stuff we do -- you've still got to get off blocks and make tackles -- I don't think that stuff will change.
You were a defensive backs coach for a long time. Was it your goal to become a coordinator one day?
PP: I think anybody in the profession, as you're going and moving along and gaining experience, looks forward to maybe a different position, one of overseeing the defense. It's something that kind of came about over the past 24 years. Did I have a time level when I wanted to do it? No. It just kind of happened when it did. Obviously, I was lucky to get this great opportunity here at Iowa without having to move my family,
Kirk Ferentz said when you were hired that you'd had several opportunities to go elsewhere and be a coordinator. Why'd you stay at Iowa?
PP: The first thing was, we were a pretty good football program, and I'm working with a great guy in coach Ferentz. I thought that was important. And also I thought it was best for my family to have my kids grow up in a great city like Iowa City and go to the same school. I thought that was more important at the time than my career.
The continuity at Iowa isn't usual anymore in college football. What do you think the consistency in the staff has meant to the program?
PP: Well, I think everybody is familiar with everybody and they're comfortable. I think kids are more comfortable and they know where we're coming from. You have the same system and they understand your system. So when something comes up, it's easier to adjust. If they were freshmen and went on to become a senior and all of a sudden we need to make an adjustment like we did three years ago against another team, they remember it and have a recall of information. If a freshman comes in and goes in two years, OK, I have a different set of coaches here, I think that brings a different set of issues. And in recruiting I'm sure it helps because players know the guy recruiting them is going to be there. So I think there are a lot of advantages to doing it that way.
You ran the defense previously when Norm Parker had to take time off. How did that prepare you for this job?
PP: It made me do a lot of the checks and balances, looking over the whole defense. And it kind of helped me to kind of prepare myself for the situation I'm in now. I think it helped a lot.
How much of what you learned and saw from him will guide you going forward?
PP: For the last 13 being here, he's obviously had a lot of impact on whatever we've done. He was a coach when I was at Michigan State when I was a player. So his influence has gone a long way for me. We had a very similar type of defense at Michigan State; it's just that offense has changed more than it did 28 years ago.
You've talked about keeping things similar, but will there be little tweaks and things you do to put your stamp on this defense?
PP: Yeah, I'm sure there is going to be some of that along the way, maybe some new ideas or the way we look at things. How can we do some things differently. But at this time, we're just trying to get everybody on the same page with the coaching staff and what we call things, because there are some new coaches and the terminology is different.
What's your philosophy on blitzing? Do you see yourself as an aggressive playcaller?
PP: I think the game dictates that. It all depends where you're at, timing and a lot of factors. Do you have the guys to do it? Do you have the guys to cover? There's a lot of factors that go into when you call blitzes and the timing of blitzes. But I've been asked that question a long time. It seems like every interview I have, people are asking that question. I can't really say right now whether I'll blitz more or less.
It's a long way from the start of the season, but will you coach on the sideline or in the booth upstairs?
PP: I have thought about it a little bit but I have not really come to a conclusion right now. I'm working in different things to see how I fit everything together before I make that decision.
One of your defensive coaches, Reese Morgan, is coming over from the offensive side to coach the defensive line. How do you think that will work out?
PP: I think it's a great addition. He's a great teacher and a great motivator and I think he'll do a great job with the defensive line. So we're excited about it. He's learning every day and he's enthusiastic about the opportunity.
The defensive front looks like it will be very young this year. What are your thoughts on that group heading into the spring?
PP: There are some young players. We've got some guys who have played a little bit like Steve Bigach, Joe Gaglione and Carl Davis. But the other guys are young and haven't played or redshirted. So I think there's a bigger ceiling for them to improve than maybe a guy who's played a lot and is kind of reaching the top of his game. Right now, everybody's young, so there's more opportunity and room to improve.
How have you seen Big Ten offenses change throughout your tenure?
PP: When I first came here, it obviously seemed like more of a running type of conference. But [teams are] starting to go with more running quarterbacks, and that has changed the game a little bit. It's almost like a long time ago when they used to run the option a lot more. Now they're just spreading everybody out and running option. Some of it's option, some of it's just spread and throwing the ball and some of it they're using quarterback runs. We probably didn't have nearly as many mobile quarterbacks as we do now. It's a different challenge
How do you change to react to that as a defense?
PP: Well, I think the first thing that made it hard was a lot of guys were changing guys around to different positions. You can't just pick out a great player on the other team and know where he's going to line up all the time and shut him down. Some of it is, the more complex they get, the simpler you have to be on defense and play faster. You can try to do a lot more and make a lot mistakes. Or you can do less and play faster, and I think you can get the same kind of results.
Do your recruiting responsibilities change at all in this role now?
PP: I think it may change a little. Maybe I won't be on the road as much, though certainly there will be times of the year when I will be out on the road. We're working on that right now, just changing some area or getting guys in areas they need to be in.
Finally, this is the first time in the Ferentz era that either coordinator has changed, and now you have two new coordinators and some different roles. Is that creating a different energy in the program?
PP: I think so. I think everybody, players and coaches together, is working with a different group of guys. So it's a challenge for everybody to get on the same page. It's exciting to look forward to that and get back into football right before spring starts. I would say everybody's a little bit outside of their comfort zone right now and looking forward to the challenges ahead.