Jimmy "Red" Parker coached football at eight colleges and a handful of high schools, but the best years of his coaching career without a doubt were at The Citadel.
The likeable redhead from Arkansas was one of the most popular and successful coaches the Bulldogs ever had and will return to the military school this weekend where he will be inducted into The Citadel Athletic Hall of Fame prior to Saturday's game against Wofford.
"I've had a lot of wonderful things happen to me that I never did anything to deserve," the 75-year-old Parker said this week from his home in Fordyce, Ark., a town of less than 5,000 just south of Little Rock. "But the best thing that ever happened to me from a career standpoint was going to The Citadel.
"All my family believes that. All our coaches that were together there believe that. And I hope that all the players that played for us have the same feeling that I have for The Citadel."
Indeed, Parker commanded a fierce loyalty during a turbulent time when attending a military school was contrary to the changing cultural landscape of the times.
Coaching the Bulldogs from 1966-72, during the height of the Vietnam War, Parker's teams compiled a record of 39-34 overall with a 25-20 mark in the Southern Conference.
"That was the most difficult period in the history of the United States of America as far as discipline and structure was concerned," Parker said. "There was such an anti-military effect going on. People may think it's tough now, but they don't know what it was then. It was a monster."
Parker tamed that monster by building a football program at The Citadel that not only won, but created 26 All-Southern Conference players, 11 of whom are also in the school's hall of fame.
"Nobody played any better or any harder than our kids," said Parker as emotion caused his voice to catch at the sheer mention of his former players. "They played so hard and we had some good schemes. We capitalized on a lot of things that made us good."
During that time, he was credited with creating "The Citadel Veer" offense that allowed the Bulldogs to compete against almost anybody.
"I remember we had a really good defensive football ball team and we were playing Southern Mississippi (1967) which had led the nation in defense the year before," Parker said. "They kicked a field goal on the last play of the game and beat us 10-7.
"We just couldn't do anything offensively, so I sent Bob Gatling to (the University of) Houston and we got everything that we got from Bill Yeoman. We took the basics of the Houston veer offense and expanded it to fit our needs. We added the five-step, drop-back passing game and that made us even better."
Before it was over, Parker's teams managed to finish second two times in the SoCon and third two times. Quite an accomplishment for the time and place.
After such success, Parker got his shot at the big leagues when Clemson came calling in 1973 to replace Hootie Ingram.
Unfortunately, things didn't work as well for Parker in the Upstate where the Tigers were 17-25-2 during his four-year run that ended with his dismissal.
"It was a mistake for me to leave coaching," said Parker, who spent three years away from the game after he left Clemson. "But I knew I had done everything the way it was supposed to be done at Clemson.
"I was really rather bitter, but the man upstairs has a pretty good plan and it didn't take me long to get the idea that I needed to go back to coaching. When Clemson fired me, I knew my big-time coaching days were over. And, to be honest with you, I really, really enjoyed the latter part of my career."
Those days included jobs as an assistant coach at Vanderbilt, Southern Arkansas, Delta State and Ole Miss before finishing off his career at a local high school near his hometown of Fordyce where he owns a car dealership.
Others being inducted into the hall of fame include Charlie Brendle (football '63), Bill Gilgo (football '62), Gettys Glaze (baseball '92), Coach Jack Hall (honorary track and field, football), and David Kreber (football '80).
On Friday (1:30-3:30 at Mark Clark Hall) and Saturday (noon to 1:30 Holliday Alumni Center), Parker will be signing his new book "The Legacy of Coach Jimmy 'Red' Parker," authored by Dr. Mary Magee.
As for his return visit to The Citadel, Parker said he can't wait to visit the campus and see all his old friends and former players.
"I look forward to seeing everybody," he said. "Those were really great days at The Citadel. I'm honored."
Reach Ken Burger at email@example.com or 937-5598.
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