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Archive for May, 2014

A fitting tribute

Saturday, May 31st, 2014
Norm Parker would have appreciated what took place at Kinnick Stadium this afternoon as much as he enjoyed a good cup of coffee. The gruff-but-lovable Parker - an old-school coach whose teachings were embraced by generations of new-school players during a 48-year career - would have liked both the messages and the way they were delivered during the 90-minute celebration of life held in the stadium where Parker did some the best work of his career. Former Iowa players, current and former Iowa coaches and Parker's son and grandson were among those who spoke, keeping things brief and keeping the atmosphere light as they reflected on one of the more unique individuals to coach the game at Iowa. There were emotions. Former Hawkeye assistant Eric Johnson who followed Parker to Iowa from Vanderbilt fought off tears as he spoke about working with him. And, there were laughs. Parker's grandson Tyler Anderson, who works in the Iowa football offices, recalled how Parker was late in returning to the office following game. It was later discovered that Parker, then using a golf cart to get back-and-forth from the stadium to his office, had a reasonable explanation for his delay. "We were starting to get worried, but a spectator had flagged him down and asked him if he was in charge of accessible parking. He gave the guy a lift in his golf cart to the guy's car over at Carver,'' Anderson said. "That was grandpa.'' Aaron Kampman was among the former Hawkeyes who stood behind the podium and talked about Parker and the impact he had on his life. "Look at the people who have come back. They're here from all over the country and that says a lot about what coach meant to all of us,'' Kampman said before the ceremony started. "It's like a reunion, but I think that says something about the respect we all have for Norm and what he means to all of us.'' Former Hawkeyes Chad Greenway, Abdul Hodge, Mike Humpal and LeVar Woods, all coached by Parker, were among the speakers. They recalled situations they found themselves in while learning from Parker, often on the sharp end of Parker's wit, and how those lessons benefitted them once their collegiate careers ended. "Norm never taught us to be NFL players, none of us,'' said Woods, now an assistant on the Hawkeye staff. "He taught us how to be better men, successful men, brothers and fathers, contributors to society.'' That is the legacy that Parker leaves. As Humpal put it, "People would ask Norm how long he planned to coach and he'd always say he was going to coach 'until the lid's closed.' Well, the lid's closed and he's still coaching.''

100-day itch

Thursday, May 22nd, 2014
The 2014 Iowa football season kicks off 100 days from today when the Hawkeyes welcome Northern Iowa to Kinnick Stadium. What happens between now and Aug. 30 when Iowa plays the first of three straight home games to open the season will go a long way in determining just what type of Hawkeye team this will be. There are questions still be answered, mostly on the front end of the offense and the back end of the defense. Work put in by offensive linemen and defensive backs during the summer months will have a major say in what transpires once the season turns from summer to football. Iowa coaches are comfortable with the front five on their offensive line, where right tackle Andrfew Donnal and left guard Sean Welsh have moved into open lineup spots. Both performed well enough during spring drills for coaches to be comfortable with where the starting unit is at for this time of year. Behind them, the Hawkeyes have work to do. Iowa's offenisve line depth is paper thin, and coach Kirk Ferentz and his staff expect summertime growth from a group of listed back-ups which included one senior, one junior, three sophomores and two redshirt freshmen among reserves heading into fall camp. Iowa started the same front five in its 13 games on offense a year ago, a rarity in the Big Ten allowed by the fortunes of good health and consistent performance. The Hawkeyes cannot count on being as fortunate in 2014 from a health standpoint and ideally, coaches would like to see at least three of those reserves improve to the point where they could take the field and provide the needed consistency for Iowa to compete up front. In the secondary, this spring was somewhat a time of experimentation for coordinator Phil Parker and Jordan Lomax's progress at free safety and the emergence of one of three contenders at left cornerback will be important once fall camp begins. Maurice Fleming, Sean Draper and Greg Mabin all finished spring drills battling at the position and that competition will likely continue into the opening weeks of fall camp. Iowa needs to solidify the back end of its defense to help a trio of first-year starters at linebacker ease their way into action. While a veteran defensive front will help that situation as well, there will likely be a few growing pains along the way as the linebackers step into starting roles. On offense, the same scenario exists at receiver, where Kevonte Martin-Manley and Tevaun Smith return with starting experience but Iowa needs growth over the next 100 days from a group of receivers who will impact the Hawkeye passing game this fall. From Jacob Hillyer to Derrick Willies, Matt VandeBerg and Damond Powell, Iowa needs its receiving corps to elevate its level of consistency as it works with Jake Rudock and C.J. Beathard during the upcoming months. It's what happens when quarterbacks are drilling receivers on their routes during individual work in June and July that can make or break a team, developing the needed cohesion to compete with the Big Ten's elite or settling for something less. Just how much the Hawkeyes scratch that 100-day itch will go a long way in determing just what transpires just off of Melrose Avenue this fall.

Sign of the times

Wednesday, May 7th, 2014
Announcements this week that the Big Ten will add Washington, D.C., to a rotation of sites for its men's basketball tournament and begin an early-season series of games against teams from the Big East are truly a sign of the times. From the November days in 2012 when Jim Delany announced the addition of Maryland and then Rutgers as the newest Big Ten members, he made it completely clear that the league envisioned not only adding two new institutions but envisioned "living'' in the East as well as the Midwest. The addition of a conference office in midtown Manhattan earlier this year and ownership of satellite facilities in Washington, D.C., illustrated even before this week's announcements that Delany wasn't just giving lip service to that notion. This isn't your father's Big Ten. It is a changing conference that retains a Midwest heritage but is also embracing a desire to strengthen its ties to the East. The move is one part reactionary and one part visionary. It embraces the reality that a number of Midwestern states have suffered population losses that in the future will ultimately impact Big Ten institutions. To counter that, the plan Delany and conference administrators have adopted involves strengthening the league's presence in the East, growing the market by reaching out to heavily populated areas of the East. There are challenges. The New York and mid-Atlantic media markets the Big Ten is attempting to move into are considered to be more "pro markets'' than "college markets,'' and it will take marketing successes to change that. The move also brings the Big Ten closer to the decision makers and dollars that the league and its television holding, the Big Ten Network, need to be successful. Now available in more than 50 million homes, each Big Ten school pocketed $25.4 million from the conference in 2013 including revenue from its television network. The Lafayette Courier-Journal has reported that league administrators have told institutions that they can expect that number to grow to $44.5 million per school per year when new media contracts begin paying out in 2017. Those are dollars that talk. They cover the cost of facility upgrades, increased coaches compensation and likely moving forward, increased costs for athletes beyond covering the current costs for scholarships. Those estimated dollars are built around the notion that the Big Ten will successfully grow its brand in the East while retaining its Midwestern stronghold. Tuesday's announcement that the league basketball tournament will move away from the Chicago and Indianapolis homes it has enjoyed since its inception was not unexpected. If the league is to grow, the way it does business must evolve. That means taking a basketball tournament to the same Washington, D.C., venue in 2017 that will host the Atlantic Coast Conference tourney one year earlier. It means taking the Big Ten baseball tourney this year to Omaha and moving it to other professional venues from Nebraska to the East coast. In many sports the league offers, conference champions will be crowned in Maryland and New Jersey on a rotating basis. And in the future, it will likely mean playing a football championship game or two outside of the comforts of Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. The league's new bowl deals that move into place this fall include games in Washington, D.C., and New York City. You may need to a slip on a winter jacket to attend, but that's not by accident. It is all simply a sign of the times, of the growing the nature of intercollegiate athletics, its ties to big business and the world that the college game now lives in. There are risks -- the Big 12 found that out with an ill-fated and short-lived decision to play its basketball tournament in Dallas -- but from Delany's perspective, it is a risk worth taking in hopes of positioning the Big Ten for the future. More often than not during his tenure as the league's commissioner, Delany has proven to make the right call and while there has been some initial grumbling about his latest moves in the area where the Big Ten is rooted, his decisions may well pay off again.