Perfect timing leads Ash, Parker to Rutgers
When the phone rang, Kenny Parker knew.
"I told my wife, 'If I leave with anybody, it'll be him,'" Parker said. "So when he called me, I already knew the answer, he already knew."
Parker, of course, is reflecting on the moment when Rutgers head football coach Chris Ash offered him the job as the program's head strength and conditioning coach, a position he accepted officially on Dec. 18.
Over the course of the past 10 years, Parker went from a 3-year starter on the defensive line at Florida to calling the shots for his very own strength and conditioning program at a Big Ten school.
However, had he not crossed paths with Urban Meyer — he worked under the former Florida head coach as a defensive intern with the Gators from 2005-07 before his promotion to assistant strength and conditioning coach for 2007-09 — Parker admits that he would have never gotten to this point.
That, he said, is one of the many fragile factors in his life where opportunity and hard work caught up with perfect timing.
"Here's what I can say about Coach Meyer: He gave a man out of Warner Robbins, Georgia, a chance when I couldn't speak any English," Parker said. "I was a country-twang, young man. Now, 10 years later after knowing him, I definitely learned a lot."
Evidently, that growth came on and off the field — inside and outside of the weight room.
Meyer, the head coach at Ohio State for the past four years, kept tabs on Parker after his two seasons at Murray State. There, Parker coached the Racers' defensive line for a year before tripling up to take on the jobs as director of player development and head strength and conditioning coach.
But soon enough, the two reunited at Ohio State in 2012 when Meyer offered him the same assistant strength and conditioning job he held down in his early coaching days in "The Swamp" of Gainesville.
And when a young and fiery defensive coach named Chris Ash came to Columbus in 2014 to co-coordinate the defense and oversee the safeties, that was when Parker formed the same rare bond he shared with Meyer.
This time, it was in Ash — the Midwest man from Ottumwa, Iowa — clicking with his fellow Georgian staffer from the South, reminiscent of how Meyer did.
As he saw how Ash conducted the players, it reminded Parker of how Meyer consistently did whether he was in Gainesville or Columbus.
And the microcosms of those common characteristics were obvious to him.
"The man (Ash) that you are speaking of, both of them (Meyer and Ash) are big on details. They are very big on holding guys accountable," Parker said. "(They are) very — forgive me when I say this — buttholes about it. But the players love that. That's the reason I came with Coach Ash."
Parker isn't the only Rutgers coach who thinks that.
And coincidentally, he's not the only former Ohio State staffer.
"I've had a very fortunate career. I've worked for some really good head coaches," said special teams coordinator Vince Okruch, who spent the past two seasons as the Buckeyes' quality control coach of kicking and defense. "I'm excited about Chris's mannerisms, outlook at this. Obviously, if everything was fine here (at Rutgers), this (coaching change) wouldn't have happened."
Just as Parker's decision to come to Piscataway was contingent on Ash calling the shots as the program's head coach, Ash revealed that it might have been a 2-way street with him as well.
"I've said this to a few people," Ash said. "If I didn't think I could get Kenny Parker with me, I might not have taken the job. It was that important of a hire for me."
Ash, who went on to call Parker "the biggest hire (he) could have made" and "a home run," noted that the two shared goals that fit perfectly into where they would plan to take Rutgers.
But that blueprint, a part of Ash's masterplan to shift the culture of the Scarlet Knights' program, couldn't be completed, on or off the field — not without Parker somewhere in the fold.
"He's not going to be just a strength and conditioning coach. Is he going to physically develop the players? Absolutely. But the mental development, and the confidence, and the belief and the training we put these guys through is going to be probably more important than the physical development," Ash said. "The adversity that he's going to put them through to see how they respond, the competitive environment that he's going to create both in the weight room and in the off-season drills, on the practice field, is going to be extremely important for us."
As ambitious as they both sound since arriving on the Banks, Ash and Parker will be the first to acknowledge that change isn't a product of overnight success.
But for the two Meyer pupils that crossed paths at Ohio State, replicating and crafting that success will be a product of the same ingredients that got them here.
"I had opportunities to leave and go be a head (strength and conditioning) guy earlier. I chose not to and the fact was ... I just felt better with Coach Ash," Parker said. "He gets the players to play for him, they love him ... He's a hard-nosed, grimy coach and I love that about him. And, most importantly, he's straightforward and he's honest. You don't see that nowadays too many times. There's no one in the world I would've left with any other coach but him."