Iowa fans: Worry all you want, just not about Phil Parker’s defense

Hawkeye fans are no different from basically any other sports fan base out there in one definite way: They find things to worry about. And while there could very well be plenty of reasons for pause in accessing Iowa Football’s 2021 outlook, one thing that shouldn’t keep fans up at night is Phil Parker’s defense.

Over the past decade, a balanced, consistent, and sometimes dominant defense has been the calling card for the Iowa defensive coordinator. For example, in each season from 2015 to 2020, the Hawkeyes have ranked in the top 20 nationally in opponent points per game. No team has scored more than 24 points against Iowa since Week Ten of 2018. The major commonality throughout this superb stretch is the team’s defensive leader, Parker himself. Having served as defensive backs coach under Kirk Ferentz since 1999, Parker was promoted to Defensive Coordinator in 2012.

Parker played defensive back himself while at Michigan State University. As a Spartan, Parker was selected to First Team All-Big Ten three times. After serving as a graduate assistant at MSU, Parker was hired on at Toledo as defensive backs coach, where he served from 1988 to 1998.

Parker has had the privilege of working under legendary coach Nick Saban in 1990, as well as Ferentz for the past two decades. He would have also learned a great deal from Norm Parker, who served as defensive coordinator at Iowa from 1999-2011. Years of experience playing, coaching, and learning defense have made Parker a valuable asset to the Iowa program.

Norm Parker (in no way related to Phil) accomplished a lot himself during his tenure. In 2005, he was named a finalist for the Broyles Award, given to the best assistant coach in the nation. Norm was the definition of a Big Ten defensive coach. He worked at Minnesota, Illinois, and Michigan State, all before Iowa. His expertise no doubt shaped Phil Parker as a coach.

Not only have numerous players gone from Phil Parker’s defense to the NFL, but the ones that return to school seem to fill any gaps that may have been left. Consistency of this type is rare, and it speaks to the excellent player development present at Iowa. 

Phil Parker, who is entering his 23rd straight season with the Iowa Football program, has solidified himself as one of the most underrated coordinators in all of college football. (Photos: Iowa Athletics)

Just as has been the case in the past, Iowa will be without some key contributors during the upcoming 2021 season. Notable losses defensively for the Hawks include Chauncey Golston, Daviyon Nixon, Jack Heflin, and Nick Niemann. While these losses do hurt, Iowa has several key pieces of their secondary returning to school. Most notably, cornerback Matt Hankins. Parker spoke highly of Hankins in his recent spring media availability. “Very fortunate in the back end to keep everybody here,” he noted. “Matt [Hankins] decided to stay another year. I was thrilled about that. Gives us some leadership back there…and can give a lot of insight to some of the corners that are coming up.”

Regarding the depth of the defensive line, which is often a strength for Iowa, Parker likes who he has coming in. It is a very young but talented group of players. “I’m really excited to see where this group can go”, Parker said. “When you lose some guys, impact players, like Nixon, Chauncey, and Hef [Jack Heflin], you sit there and say, ‘Hey, who’s going to be up front?’ Anytime you’re going to win, you’re going to win with the guys up front.” Look for guys like Joe Evans, Yahya Black, John Waggoner, and others to play an increased role during the upcoming season.

At the linebacker position, Iowa has to replace Nick Neimann, which will certainly not be easy. But Seth Benson, Jestin Jacobs, and Jack Campbell have impressed the staff so far. As a result, Parker has spoken quite highly of the growth and flexibility of his entire linebacker corps.

The Iowa defense will be challenged right out of the gate, as they must contend with up-and-coming Indiana during Week One. Then, in Week Two, they will try to stop potential Heisman candidate Breece Hall and the experienced Iowa State offense. How they respond to those first two tests will tell a lot.

Without question, Phil Parker has been one of the most successful assistants Iowa has had in the history of Hawkeye Football, and he has learned from some of the best coaches ever. Given Parker’s track record of exceptional preparation and dedication to his players, Hawk fans everywhere have ample reason to expect similarly successful defensive results once again in 2021.

One Comment

  1. Thomas Higgins said:

    If Phil Parker isn’t THE most underrated Coordinator in all of college football it’s hard to fathom who is. If he wasn’t as modest and evidently happy where he is, his name would be mentioned every time a coaching search was begun. A self-promoting coach (see Chizak, ISU) would have already been gone for greener ($$$) pastures . Thank the Lord we have Phil and I hope he continues until he chooses when he doesn’t want or can’t do the job.

    May 6, 2021
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