Former Pro Running Back Willie Parker Takes His Experience to High School Coaching

From Student to Teacher

After his NFL days were over, Parker was on the lookout for new opportunities to grow and give back. A friend encouraged him to consider coaching.

Parker played with the Steelers through 2009, and in those years won two Super Bowl rings and was twice selected to play in the Pro Bowl.
Parker played with the Steelers through 2009, and in those years won two Super Bowl rings and was twice selected to play in the Pro Bowl.
“One of my best friends, John Hathaway, has always been trying to get me into coaching high school ball,” Parker says. “I had done internships, but never really pulled the trigger to actually coach. I wasn’t sure if it was what I really wanted to do, so I did an internship at Duke University.”

He was still thinking about whether this was the path for him when opportunity came knocking.

“I traded phone numbers with DeWayne Washington, former cornerback for the Steelers, at Jerome Bettis’ NFL Hall of Fame enshrinement. Washington was the head coach of Heritage High School at that time. He reached out to me on a sunny afternoon and asked if I would like to coach running backs at the high school.”

Parker became running backs coach at Heritage High School in Wake Forest, N.C., in 2015. He approaches his new calling with the same fervor that he did in his playing days. He studies, listens and learns.

“I’m still trying to get better and look for new ways each and every day to improve,” Parker says. “I work with a lot of great coaches and I learn a lot from them. Wallace Clark was the de- fensive coordinator last year and now he is the head coach. He’s great and I watch him every single day. I love the way he talks with the team and is in tune with the kids. Everyone has their own techniques and ways to deliver the message to the kids. I’m just trying to take it in and figure out the best way for me to coach.”

Working for Success

As someone who has faced great success, as well as challenge and disappointment, Parker has a great deal of perspective to share with young players.

“You have to take it one day at a time. One day may not be so good, but you have to get back up and know how to put those bad days behind you and stack the good days up,” Parker says. “If you have more good days than bad days, then you are doing something. So challenge yourself each and every day. You can’t get too down on yourself if something didn’t happen the way you wanted it to on a certain day. You just get up the next day and make it happen. Make it happen the way you want it to happen.”

Part of the difficulty in sports, as in any endeavor in life, is working through the tough times, even when all seems lost. Parker knows that faith and persistence are the key.

As someone who has faced great success, as well as challenge and disappointment, Parker has a great deal of perspective to share with young players.
As someone who has faced great success, as well as challenge and disappointment, Parker has a great deal of perspective to share with young players.

“To any younger kid, I’d say never take no for an answer,” he says. “If there is something you really want to do, put the hours in and do it. It’s not only working out, it’s in the classroom, as well. A strong mind leads to great opportunities and greater possibilities. Keep striving every single day, whether it’s your own personal achievements, your own personal work, or something a coach or teacher gives you. Make sure you always challenge yourself to be the best and it will work out.”

His team has had victories on the field, but to Parker, success in sports means something deeper.

“I would define success in terms of whether the athlete grows in the game and outside of the game,” he says. “If we can develop a high school athlete into a young man going to college, we’ve done our job. It doesn’t always have to do with wins and losses. It can be about life and change. I think being a successful coach means helping a young man mature and getting him ready for life.”

Although Parker considers himself to be just a few steps along the way of a longer journey, he loves what he is doing and finds great reward in sharing his experience with young people.

“Right now, this is what I want to do. I want to coach high school football,” Parker says. “I don’t want to look too far ahead and miss my opportunities right now. I know I can get better at what I’m doing now, so I’m going to concentrate and focus and be happy where I am right now. I go in every day and keep stacking more good days than bad days.”

About Jim Schneider 6 Articles
Jim Schneider is editorial director of Triangle Sports.

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