As an assistant football coach in his mid-20s at Amarillo Caprock High School, Jesse Parker was headstrong and frustrated in his first assignment. His desire to win was all consuming.
As an assistant football coach in his mid-20s at Amarillo Caprock High School, Jesse Parker was headstrong and frustrated in his first assignment.
His desire to win was all consuming.
So imagine Parker’s surprise when his mentor didn’t share his view.
“The first lesson I learned was in Amarillo,” Parker recalled. “Caprock was one of the smallest 5A schools in Texas. We had a team that was small and not very athletic and we weren’t doing well.
“I said to (Caprock coach) John McGuire, 'We’re never going to win with these kids.’ ’’
McGuire shot back with a retort that has stuck with Parker for his 40-plus years stalking high school sidelines.
“You look at them as your kids,” McGuire said. “They are the best kids you have. They are the best kids there are, and they’re going to win.”
Parker will carry that same simple belief into battle tonight when Gilbert faces Scottsdale Horizon in search of Parker’s 300th career coaching win.
Age (68) and two knee replacements have slowed Arizona’s most recognizable prep icon down a bit.
But the set jaw, the piercing eyes and that trademark scowl remain.
So does the desire.
“There’s been no change in his temperament come Friday night,” Mesa Red Mountain coach Jim Jones said. “Away from the field he is a very humorous, funny individual. We did camps together in Sierra Vista when I has at Westwood and we’d be talking and laughing all the way. But when the clock strikes 12 and it’s time for football, he’s all business.”
Parker’s 46-year coaching career has taken him from Phoenix Camelback (1969-75) to Mesa Mountain View (1976-94) to Texas High in Texarkana, Texas, and now to Gilbert.
But if win No. 300 is achieved, he insists it won’t be any bigger than most of the previous triumphs.
“I’ve never thought about 300,” Parker said. “I’ve never been a numbers person. I couldn’t tell you who No. 100 or 200 was against.”
Parker’s 299-132-4 career record includes five state titles (four at Mountain View and one at Camelback). He also has four runners-up.
If Gilbert wins tonight, Parker will become the third coach in Arizona prep history to tally 300 wins or more, joining former Tempe McClintock and Phoenix Mountain Pointe coach Karl Kiefer (308), and current Tucson Amphitheater coach Vern Friedli (301).
“Anytime you’re matched against Jesse Parker, the intensity level goes up two or three levels,” said Arizona Interscholastic Association executive director Harold Slemmer, a Tempe McClintock football assistant for Kiefer for nearly a decade from the late 1970s to mid-1980s. “Nobody deserves to be in that elite level of coaches more than he does.”
Parker’s expectations have always been higher.
His parents instilled discipline and toughness. Sibling rivalries with five brothers enhanced his development as a taskmaster, demanding coach and educator. Overcoming physical ailments in recent years was easy, given his upbringing.
Parker had knee replacement surgery on both knees in June, 2001. When he asked his physician if he would be ready for camp in July, the doctor asked: “Are you tough enough?”
Camp took place with Parker front and center.
Two years ago, faced with the prospect of constant dialysis, Parker underwent a kidney transplant (from wife, Latsy) in February and returned to coaching the next season.
He still barks at officials and he still patrols the sidelines like a caged animal, but not with the same vigor that made his presence legendary in the 1980s and ’90s at Mountain View.
You might even say Parker has mellowed, but it probably wouldn’t be wise to say it to him.
“I still get sideline warnings more than any coach,” he said. “I guess I’m paying for the sins of my younger days.”
Winning with the hand he is dealt year to year remains his mantra.
“I never went to Pop Warner games or went out looking for kids,” Parker said. “Kids come to you in a box. Your job is to enlarge that box. Make them know they can do more than they thought they could.”
That happened in Parker’s first year of competing for a state title at Mountain View in 1978 . His players — from Poston and Fremont junior highs — won one game combined as freshmen.
The 1978 Toros lost their first game then won the next 13 to garner the first of eight state titles.
“When I interviewed in Mesa (1976) I applied for the Westwood job,” Parker said. “That’s the one I wanted. When I found out Jerry Loper got the Westwood job they asked me if I’d take the job at Mountain View.
“I didn’t want to take it when I found out I would have to wait two years to play for a championship. If it hadn’t been for my wife, I wouldn’t have taken the job. She thought it would be a good situation.
“Fortunately, I listened to her.”
Parker’s coaching jobs revolved more around teaching than coaching. He was hired at Camelback as a history teacher. Football was second on the administration’s list.
Parker took over a program that went 1-9 the year before and had no holdover veteran coaches. He made a deal with the school’s basketball coach to help him out in football if Parker would return the favor when basketball season came around.
At Mountain View, Parker arrived with credentials in both academics and coaching. He taught advanced placement history at Mountain View.
“As it turned out, Mountain View was the perfect place,” he said. “My values coincided with the community and the principal. The school developed a quest for excellence that still operates today.”
When Parker left Arizona to “return home,” his ideals meshed with Texas High’s for three years, until an administration change.
“I was brought in to instill discipline and the kids accepted it,” Parker said. “That changed by my last year.”
While there were positives, Parker regrets the overall experience.
“It was very selfish on my part,” he said. “I uprooted my family. My son (John) was going to play quarterback as a senior and I took him from that opportunity at Mountain View.”
Phoenix St. Mary’s coach Pat Farrell, who battled Parker last Thursday in a double-overtime Gilbert win, is happy Parker’s back.
“Over the last 35 years there’s been no coach that prepares his team as well as Jesse does,” Farrell said. “He forces you to maximize your preparation. He and Karl and Vern have distanced themselves. It’s a testament to their endurance and commitment to high school football.”
Parker admits he’s lost some of the intensity that defined his early days. But no one wears a game result more clearly than Parker: A wide smile or a deep, dark scowl.
“The victories don’t mean as much, but for some reason the losses hurt more,” Parker said. “When we lose it’s like a stab in the heart.”
This year’s Gilbert team has clawed its way to a 3-2 record. Every game has been up for grabs with none decided by more than two touchdowns.
In many ways, it’s a typical Parker team — undersized and scrappy.
“I like these kids,” Parker said. “As my Gilbert time has gone, they play hard and practice hard as well as any I’ve had.”
Parker has no plans to retire soon. The kidney transplant has provided him with an energy boost and his competitive juices are still circulating through those time-tested veins.
“My goal at Mountain View was to win the state championship,” Parker said. “That goal hasn’t changed.”
JESSE PARKER’S COACHING CAREER
1969: Parker earns first head coaching victory at Phoenix Camelback.
1973: Makes first title-game appearance, but Camelback falls to Tucson Palo Verde, 22-20.
1974: Gets a second chance at a state title and notches the first of five state titles as Camelback prevails, 22-20, over Phoenix St. Mary’s.
1976: Leaves Camelback and takes over new program at Mesa Mountain View.
1978: Guides Mountain View to the state championship with a 41-23 win over Scottsdale Saguaro.
1983: Gets his third state title with his only unbeaten team as the Toros dump Tempe McClintock, 34-14.
1986: Nabs his fourth state title as a rather unheralded Mountain View squad knocks off Phoenix Moon Valley, 31-7.
1987: Is runner-up for the second time as Mesa Dobson deals Mountain View its first title-game loss, 35-14.
1988: Gets a runner-up finish for the third time as Mountain View reaches the title game for the third straight year but loses to Mesa Westwood, 28-7.
1992: Is runner-up for a fourth time, this time with sister school Mesa High coming away with a 14-8 win.
1993: Parker collects his fifth state title and fourth at Mountain View as the Toros topple Phoenix South Mountain, 38-7.
1994: Parker’s final season at Mountain View, the Toros are eliminated in the quarterfinals by eventual state champion Scottsdale Horizon.
1995: Ends a 19-year run at Mountain View in April, opting to leave for Texas High in Texarkana, Texas, where he will become athletic director and coach for next three seasons.
1997: Ends coaching stint at Texas High after three seasons over philosophical differences with school district.
1999: Returns to Arizona and coaching after a one-year hiatus, landing the Gilbert job.
2000: Guides Gilbert to the playoffs in his second year there, the first of five such appearances in his current nine-year tenure. The Tigers fall to eventual state champion Mesa Red Mountain in the semifinals.
2003: Guides Gilbert to the semifinals for the second time in three years, but the Tigers lose to eventual state champion Chandler Hamilton.
2007: Gets another hard-earned victory over St. Mary’s coaching nemesis Pat Farrell, 24-17, in double-overtime for career victory No. 299.
Parker’s coaching records school by school
• Camelback (1969-1975) 48-27-2
• Mountain View (1976-1994) 185-43-2
• Texas High, Texarkana, Texas (1995-1997) 11-21
• Gilbert (1999-present) 55-41
• Win No. 100: Mountain View defeated McClintock, 41-14, in 1981
• Win No. 200: Mountain View defeated Chaparral, 61-13, in 1991
• Win No. 299: Gilbert defeated St. Mary’s, 24-17 in 2 OT in 2007