It is somewhat ironic Jesse Parker died on a Friday night.
The man with an unwavering will to win, clenched jaw, love for history and young people came alive on Friday nights for 40 years.
Every time he sprinted toward his football team’s sideline – whether it was Camelback, Mountain View or Gilbert Highs – Parker was in his element and his teams were ready to play with the same intensity and passion he displayed in practice and the classroom.
Parker battled cancer and had a recent bout with pneumonia that sent him to the hospital. He was released and it appeared to have cleared up, he even found time to talk to coaches, before the complications returned.
He died at age 77 on July 21.
Parker won five state titles and 309 games in 40 years on the sideline with four of the championships coming at Mountain View.
Fellow Arizona coaching legend Vern Friedli, who had 331 wins and coached mostly at Tucson Amphitheater, died earlier in the day at age 80.
Parker’s recent bout with pneumonia sent him to the hospital. He was released and it appeared to have cleared up, he even found time to talk to coaches, before the complications returned.
He was one of the most polarizing figures in the history of Arizona high school sports as his hard-nosed style forged boys into men, but he also came under scrutiny for the way he went about it.
The outpouring of love on social media once news broke showed how the supporters far outweighed the detractors. He was just as tough in his AP history class as he was on the sideline, he wrote to ex-players stationed in Desert Storm, and never let up no matter the situation.
“He made us memorize a quote before each game, and there was always a message behind it,” former player Brent Hunt, a 1993 graduate, said. “His class was tough and he made you think. You didn’t see the softer side until you were done, and came back to see him or run into him somewhere.”
Skyline coach Angelo Paffumi, who was one of Parker’s assistant coaches for 10 years at Gilbert, saw Parker twice in the final weeks of his life.
“He never let on how far it had spread,” Paffumi said. “That’s the kind of man he was. He toughed it out no matter what.”
Parker leaves behind a legacy, hundreds of former players and an impressive coaching tree.
He enjoyed the hard-nosed persona that was attached to anyone who spoke of coach Parker, but the connection he had with players was much more than yelling and tough love.
Parker, who started coaching in Arizona at Camelback High after moving from Texas, shared poems, quotes and stories that had much deeper meaning than forcing kids to run extra laps or doing up-downs because someone jumped off sides.
He touched on life, history and what it takes to become a man.
“Coach was hard-nosed and wanted to win at all costs, but there was so much more to him than that,” Paffumi said. “I went to 20 different camps with him and each night there were two hours of lecture on topics of life, what it takes to become a young man and the meaning of poems.”
Parker loved pushing kids to the brink to show them they were far more capable then they ever knew.
“He truly believed he could take an average kid and make them better,” Paffumi said. “Every kid has his own psychological wall. He wanted to make them slam through the wall. It was not for everyone, but those that got past that wall never regretted it.”
His practices were extremely tough, and he was rarely outcoached on Friday nights. His teams took the field knowing they were put in a position to be successful.
“Of all the stuff I have ever done, the things he had us do was more difficult than anything I did in college,” said Hunt, who went on to play offensive line at UTEP. “The conditioning and practices were so much harder. We knew we were going to be better conditioned and prepared than anyone we faced. Mix in some talent with that work ethic and Mountain View was hard to beat.”
Mountain View renamed its field after Parker and held a ceremony last year. A new scoreboard that bears his name was put up this summer, and Camelback was planning a ceremony this fall.
Paffumi honors Parker by the way he goes about running his own program and still has a notebook filled with the poems and lessons his mentor shared with his own teams.
“He didn’t care what people thought of him,” Paffumi said. “He was a father figure to so many and he never lost that intensity. The biggest example of what he could do as a coach came at Gilbert. They went 0-10 before he got there. We made the playoffs eight times, and then since he left (Gilbert) hasn’t had a winning season.
“If he didn’t get the bug to return to Texas and he stayed at Mountain View that whole time he would have won so many more games and state titles.
“His coaching legacy, as great as it is, doesn’t compare to the man he was and everyone he influenced.”
– Jason P. Skoda is a freelance writer for MyNewsMesa.com.