My wife sent me a video the other day. I think it was an Instagram Reel? She was sitting at an airport waiting for a flight and sent me a short clip from an old Denzel Washington commencement address that she thought I'd enjoy. I did enjoy it. I remember it making the rounds years ago. His "if you don't fail at something at some point, you're not even trying" speech.

I never really thought I'd live in that world. The "take a big risk" world. As I've shared before, I let the Pre-SAT determine my career path. I took the Pre-SAT as a high school sophomore, there was a career survey as part of the practice test, the career survey came back "Landscape Architecture", I immediately went to the guidance office to see if Illinois had a Landscape Architecture program, it did, so that was that. Test said I was supposed to be a Landscape Architect, I will be a Landscape Architect. I didn't waver from that path until I was 47 years old. In Soviet Russia, career chooses you.

Yet there I was, at the TGI Fridays in Effingham in January of 2020, deciding whether to take a big risk. The blog had grown to the point where it was a second job, my wife then got a job offer in Champaign of all places, we drove up to Champaign that weekend to look at neighborhoods and talk about a potential move, and on our way back to St. Louis, we had dinner at the TGI Fridays to talk about it. The "are we really going to do this?" conversation.

When new defensive backs coach Corey Parker was speaking yesterday at his introductory press conference, discussing the moves from high school coach to Toledo DB coach to Illinois, I started to sense the same thing. I started to identify with his words. He, too, had uprooted his life.

Parker is an energetic guy. Part coach, part preacher. To give everyone a taste of what was happening in the press conference, I took a short video and put it out on Twitter:

He has a unique way of speaking. And unique phrases like "dang-on." He told a story about how and why he coached both the high school and middle school teams at River Rouge HS just south of Detroit. His quote:

"I had my middle school team that I coached because I didn't want people coming and poaching my middle school players anymore. Because other schools would do that. In Detroit, Michigan, if they're any good, they'll poach 'em. So how do you keep a kid? I build a relationship with him when he turns dang-on eleven."

The more I listened to him speak, the less I started thinking about how this coach would make my football team better (he will) and the more I started to identify with what he was saying about life. I could sense that his answers came from someone who had made an "uproot" decision. A high school coach for 13 years, built a program and made it his own, and then made the move to Toledo in 2022 and now Illinois.

So that's what I asked him. This becomes an audio-visual post at this point, so if you're sitting in a meeting reading this article under the conference room table, please pause here and pick it back up when you're able to watch/listen. It's important.

Here's my first question and his (three minute) answer:


I also had a follow-up question, but we'll get to that in a moment. I just want to note here that these are the moments that make doing this job so enjoyable.

I've said several times that I've come to the realization that I somewhat don't care if Illinois wins or loses. And this is part of what I mean by that. Yes, I was completely devastated at the end of the Northwestern game last November. And in Boston this March, I got to the point where I couldn't even watch Illinois on offense because I was so nervous that UConn's 22-0 run would keep growing (it did). But from the other side of the coin, I treasured this five minute interaction with Corey Parker and found that it's exponentially more special because he's wearing an orange "I" on his shirt.

He might be the best assistant we've ever hired and go on to become the next Illini head coach when Bielema retires after back-to-back titles in 2032 and 2033. He might be a disaster of a coach who teaches all the wrong techniques and loses his job in December. I'm just saying that there's not an ounce of "I hope my team wins" in my enjoyment of yesterday's interaction. I'm an Illini. He's now an Illini. And we connected over something special.

I say "we connected" but that's probably not accurate. "I connected" is more accurate. I know his story, but he doesn't know mine. Nor should he. But his answer to my follow-up question hit me in just the right spot. I believe you kids would say that I felt SEEN.

Here's me feeling SEEN:



That was me at the TGI Fridays in Effingham in 2020. It was a long discussion that evening. My wife had lived in the St. Louis area since she was 12. I had been in St. Louis since I graduated from Illinois in 1996 (and I grew up in the Metro East so I had lived most of my life in the shadow of the Arch). Family is there. Friends are there. But this job offer seemed to be where her career was leading, and it would allow me to quit my job and turn my hobby into my career. Could we really uproot our life, though?

It seems like it might be an easy conversation – her job offer is there, he needs to be there to start his new career, no brainer – but it wasn't. There was a lot to consider. She could do what she does anywhere in the country. Does she really need to take this job in Champaign? And would switching to the website full time really be successful or would I be looking for a Landscape Architecture job in a few years?

We didn't make the decision based on any of those things. My wife made it simple with five words: "I want this for you." Her belief that I could do this? Invincible, man. I felt invincible.

It hasn't been easy, what with the global pandemic that hit three weeks after I quit my job of 24 years. And I'm sure it won't be easy for Corey Parker. His entire life was spent in or around Detroit. Grew up there, went to Eastern Michigan in Ypsilanti (30 miles outside of Detroit). Then was an assistant coach at several Detroit area high schools before getting the head coaching job at River Rouge HS in 2009 (River Rouge is just south of the old Ford plant). Parker was there for 13 years before accepting a job as the Toledo DB coach in 2022. River Rouge to Toledo? Only 49 miles.

Now? 400 miles away. New city, new state, new job, new level of football. Trips back home to see family will be 6 hours. Given that he graduated from Eastern Michigan in 2005, I'm assuming that he's right around 40 years old, so that's 40 years living within 60 miles of downtown Detroit. And now a move 400 miles away. With three kids in school.

Oh, and he's the third DB coach in six months. Antonio Fenelus was let go in December. His replacement, David Gibbs, had to resign due to medical reasons this spring. So Parker won't have spring ball to get to know his guys.

His guys? About that...

Of the 2021 DB class (all but Kionte Curry recruited by Lovie), only Tyler Strain remains. Curry, Prince Green, Daniel Edwards, DD Snyder, and Joriell Washington have all transferred down to lower levels of college football. And Elijah Mc-Cantos from the 2022 class transferred to Appalachian State. And Zach Tobe from the 2023 class transferred to Georgia Tech. And returning starter Taz Nicholson transferred to Ole Miss (and then Louisville). So Corey Parker will have to rebuild the defensive backfield with a mix of transfers, freshmen, and returnees who haven't gotten many reps yet. And did I mention that it's the position under the biggest spotlight after last year's tumble from the Spoon-Syd-Quan best-in-the-Big Ten secondary to what was one of the three worst?

Build a college sports subscription website during a global pandemic that canceled all college sports for 7 months? That's nothing compared to rebuilding this Illini secondary (and having to start in May with no spring ball to teach technique). I'm sure there will be (have been?) nights where Corey Parker stares at the ceiling and wonders what he's done.

But he'll be fine. Watch it again - he'll be fine:


"She said give it your all. You can do it."

I believe her.