Mark Story

After Purdue interim coaching stint, ex-Cat Parker wants another shot

Purdue interim head coach Gerad Parker watched during the first half game against Indiana, Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016, in Bloomington, Ind.
Purdue interim head coach Gerad Parker watched during the first half game against Indiana, Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016, in Bloomington, Ind. AP

Gerad Parker had never been a coffee drinker. This fall changed that for the ex-Kentucky Wildcats wide receiver (2000-04).

In September, Brown and his wife — the former Morehead State and West Carter High School basketball star Kandi Brown, MVP of the 2000 Girls Sweet Sixteen — had their third daughter.

Roughly a month later, Parker, the wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator at Purdue, was called in by Boilermakers Athletics Director Mike Bobinski and given news that rocked his world.

Boilers Head Coach Darrell Hazell had been fired with six games left in the season. The Purdue AD told Parker, 35, he wanted the ex-Lawrence County High School star to take over as interim head coach.

“Between the new baby and (being) the head coach, there has not been a lot of time for sleep,” Parker said Friday. “I’d never been a coffee drinker. This fall, I discovered the value of coffee.”

In the Hollywood version of the story — or even the Dabo Swinney edition — Purdue would have gone 4-2 against the heart of its Big Ten schedule and Parker would have become the Boilermakers’ permanent head coach.

“Of course I thought about that,” Parker said. “I don’t think I would have left Louisa to accomplish what I have if I didn’t think that way.”

The Purdue players played hard for Parker. The Boilermakers led at Nebraska at halftime. They were tied with Penn State at halftime. They led at Minnesota at halftime. They led Northwestern 10-0. They led Wisconsin after one quarter. They led at Indiana entering the fourth quarter.

Alas, Purdue lost every one of those games, going 0-6 under Parker to finish 3-9 overall. So Bobinski announced Monday that Purdue had hired Jeff Brohm away from Western Kentucky to be its new head football coach.

When we spoke Friday, Parker was in limbo over what is next for him. He is still processing the whirlwind he rode as Purdue interim head man.

The week Parker was named head coach, Swinney, who went 4-2 as Clemson interim coach in 2008 and parlayed that into the Tigers permanent job, cold-called to offer advice.

“I had never met him,” Parker said. “But we talked on the phone for, maybe, 25 minutes. He was explaining things (an interim coach) needed to do to maintain belief with the players. I used a lot of what he suggested.”

Parker moving up to the head coach’s chair so unexpectedly was an adjustment for the other people in the coach’s household.

Kandi Parker found herself at home with three little girls - Kolbi, 4, Gwyn, 2, and Rosalyn, 3 months - with her husband under increased time demands at work.

“She was awesome to me,” Parker said of his wife. “She didn’t complain about my time (commitment), and it did change. She would bring me a cup of coffee every afternoon, and bring the girls by for me to hug on them. All the time, she was doing what she always does, working her tail off raising three girls.”

Parker is a branch on one of the more unlikely coaching trees in football. In addition to Purdue interim head coach, Lawrence County - with a population of some 15,800 - also had natives serving as the Tennessee Titans quarterbacks coach (Jason Michael) and Tennessee Tech special teams coordinator/defensive ends coach (Dontae Wright) this season.

There used to be a fourth Lawrence County product climbing the football coaching ladder. Phillip Ratliff was offensive line coach at Charlotte before his death at age 44 after a cardiac event in August, 2015.

Ratliff had been Parker’s professional mentor.

“I still get emotional just hearing his name,” Parker said. “I thought about him often during (the Purdue head coaching stint). Obviously, I wish he could have seen me.”

Even if the full-time head coaching gig at Purdue was not to be for Parker, the fact the school turned to him as its interim could eventually pay dividends.

Luke Fickell went 6-7 as Ohio State interim head coach in 2011. He has reportedly been chosen the new Cincinnati Bearcats head coach this weekend.

Shawn Elliott went 1-5 as South Carolina interim head coach in 2015. He was hired last week as Georgia State head man.

After being Purdue’s “six-week head coach,” Gerad Parker wants his career to follow a similar arc.

“I did not feel overwhelmed. I did not feel out of place,” Parker says. “I wish we’d won games, but I think what I learned is only going to help me when — if — I get another chance.”

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