Mesa Mountain View High School dedicates football field to long-time coach Jesse Parker. (Thomas Hawthorne/azcentral sports)
Jesse Parker, who was celebrated last season at Mesa Mountain View with the football field named after him, died on Friday night. He was 77.
Parker was battling cancer and recently was hospitalized for pneumonia.
Parker led Phoenix Camelback to the 1974 state championship, before opening Mountain View in the mid-1970s.
He quickly built the Toros into a perennial power, leading them to four big-school state championships.
His last state title came in 1993. He left later in the decade to return to his roots in Texarkana and the challenge of coaching Texas high school football, before returning to take over a struggling Gilbert program.
He coached 10 years at Gilbert, leading the Tigers to the playoffs eight times and creating stability to a program that has yet to have a winning season since he left in 2008. Parker retired with 309 coaching wins in 40 years as a head high school football coach.
Earlier on Friday, ex-Tucson Amphitheater coach Vern Friedli died at age 80. Friedli held the state record for all-time wins with 331, before that was broken last season by Tempe Marcos de Niza coach Paul Moro.
Former Tempe McClintock coach Karl Kiefer, who had a great friendship and rivalry with Parker in the 1970s and ’80s, was shocked by the news.
“That really hurts me,” Kiefer said. “Jesse was a great coach and a great opponent and a great friend. I was happy when they named the field after him. It was a great night.”
Mountain View this summer got rid of the scoreboard that had been there since the school opened and replaced it with one that bears Parker’s name.
Parker epitomized toughness. He always wore his red-striped, short-sleeved polo shirts on game nights, no matter how cold it got late in the season. He would sprint down the sideline when one of his players broke loose for touchdown runs. And he was never without that steely glare.
When the cancer began to spread last year, Parker remained private with it, not wanting others to feel sorry for him.
Still, he was always there to help other programs. He was on the Thatcher sideline last season when the Eagles beat top-ranked Eloy Santa Cruz in overtime in the 2A state semifinals.
Mesa Skyline coach Angelo Paffumi, who was assistant under Parker for 10 years at Gilbert, said that Parker didn’t care what people thought about him, but, in the end, he cared about building character and turning boys into men, ready for adulthood.
“There was that sheer intensity, that win at all costs,” Paffumi said. “He really didn’t care what people from the outside thought of him. But he was the opposite with kids. It was about character building and what kind of man you’re going to be, what you’re going to do with your life.”
During camps, Paffumi said he would fill notebooks with Parker’s words, talking about history, poets, life.
“Nobody knew,” Paffumi said. “All they saw was that crazed-looking man on the sideline. It was the absolute opposite with him.
“I have a notebook filled with learning poems that mean something in life,” Paffumi said. “There would be history lessons for men to look up to. Kids had to learn poems. He grew up poor and had nothing. Football shaped him and he gave that to kids.”
Paffumi said he visited Parker last week while in the hospital and he talked about how he was thrilled that Camelback had a tribute planned for him this season.
“He had great respect for guys who could match his intensity,” Paffumi said.
Two of Parker’s former Mountain View players, quarterback Joe Germaine and offensive lineman Travis Schureman, turned Queen Creek into a power, implementing Parker’s principles, especially mental toughness.
“It wasn’t Xs and Os but the life lessons he taught us,” said Schureman, who is head coach at Queen Creek and welcomed Parker last year before the season to talk to the players. “It was to find that spot in your gut people didn’t want to go to, but to go past it, even in life. He taught us we can do hard things.”
Most of the Mountain View players were members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and would go on two-year church missions after high school.
“He probably attended more LDS farewells than any coach in history,” Schureman said. “He made a point of being there.”
When he was at Tucson Sabino, current Tucson Catalina Football coach Jeff Scurran, who just turned 70, once shadowed Parker as a history teacher for a day because he had read what an outstanding teacher Parker was.
“As a teacher and mentor, it was eye-popping,” Scurran said. “Things you would never expect from a guy as tough as he was.”
Scurran said that Parker owned the room during Arizona Coaches Association meetings with his presence.
“It was not just that tough exterior,” Scurran said. “Jess was tough down to the bone. He was the toughest guy I think I’ve ever seen in my life.”
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