Jesse Parker, 71, died Friday night. He won four state championships at Mountain View.
Early in my high school sports reporting days, I remember the man with the red-and-blue polo shirt, the scowl, the growl.
He instilled fear even in young reporters.
Jesse Parker hated to lose. And he hardly lost.
But his legend started for me early in my high school playing career. I was at Scottsdale High in the mid-1970s, the youngest of eight. My father was still part of the St. Mary’s Dad’s Club. My brothers and sisters went to St. Mary’s.
And when St. Mary’s lost to Phoenix Camelback in the 1974 state championship game, conversations at the dinner table sometimes turned to Parker, how he stalked the sidelines, the stories that grew to mythological proportions on the grind he would put his players through.
So with trepidation I would confront him as a reporter after his Mesa Mountain View football games.
I soon realized that he was a totally different person once the game ended. His words were slow and measured, his voice soft.
And even after a loss, he was accommodating. He might say something not printable at first, but he would quickly cool down and never sugar-coated it. What I admired about Parker was that he never ducked an interview after a loss.
He wouldn’t stomp off and take his players into the locker room. He would take time to talk to reporters.
Parker was from a different time, generation that unfortunately doesn’t exist today. He won four state titles without transfers and without that many players who went onto major colleges (linebacker Todd Shell and quarterback Joe Germaine were exceptions). They weren’t physically imposing. They all looked the same size. But nobody pursued the ball better. Nobody tackled better. And nobody outworked his Mountain View teams.
To me, he was the Clint Eastwood of high school football coaches. A man’s man. He got his messages across with a glare. He pushed his players to their limits. But there was a gentle side to him, a historian who was as effective as a teacher as he was as a coach. Sit in one of his history classes, and his speeches would stay with you a long time.
He was smart, diverse. He loved poetry. And there was a gentleman quality about him who valued hard work and character. That is what he left mostly with his players and students.
The Parker I knew in the ’80s and ’90s wouldn’t last very long in today’s high school sport world. There was nothing PC about him. He said it like it was, and he didn’t care what people thought.
He might have offended people, but he said it and did it his way.
And nobody did it better.
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