Twenty-three years ago, Norm Parrish had big-time dreams to coach big-time teams. That was before he got fired twice in his first six months of coaching college basketball through no fault of his own.
Three months later, Parrish was hired as the assistant to Jeff Menday. Menday had been named the new men’s head coach for a young and struggling basketball program at Salt Lake Community College. Their primary objective? To clean up the program.
In 1991, 28 year-old Norm Parrish took over the program as the men’s head coach with Doug Weber at his side. The new coach mopped floors, did the squad’s laundry, drove the team bus, was the father of a 1-year-old son, Travis, and finished his Masters Degree all while facing the undaunting task of building a basketball program.
There were some important firsts early on in Parrish’s career.
John Robison was the first big Utah recruit. It was Norm’s 2nd year as head coach and powerful region rivals were heavily recruiting John. Robison made the daring choice to join ranks with Parrish. His decision helped establish SLCC as an option for outstanding Utah athletes. John went on to receive athletic All-Region Honorable Mention and was named an NJCAA Distinguished Academic All-American.
Chuck Overton, Mr. Arizona, and the all-time leading scorer for Arizona was another first. After Chuck failed to show up at the airport for his recruiting trip Norm said to his wife, “We’re going to Tucson.” They drove all night to Arizona and the next day met with Chuck and his mother. They returned home with a signed Letter of Intent. Chuck was SLCC’s first NJCAA All-American.
Asher Abitboul was Norm’s first international signee coming from Israel. All three of these young men continued their basketball careers and education at four-year schools. Their success helped put SLCC on the basketball map. In Coach Parrish’s 3rd year as head coach, SLCC went to their first national tournament placing 5th in the country.
Hugh Watson, friend and former head coach of North Idaho, gave Norm an early lesson on the reality of refereeing in the Junior College ranks. SLCC had a lead toward the end of the game and Parrish knew that North was out of time-outs, but Coach Watson called a timeout and the clock stopped. Coach Parrish argued with the refs, but it was in vain. Somehow the official scorebook didn’t show any time-outs taken for the half. Hugh called Norm over and said, “Norm, I have all the time-outs I need” and smiled. From then on Norm has never counted on the playing field being fair.
His experience at North convinced Parrish that the destiny of his teams was going to be in his own hands. Norm preaches, “Shut up and Play.” Contrary to what his players believe, Coach Parrish does own a whistle; not that it gets much use. He teaches his team to play through fouls because chances are they won’t be called. Norm’s practices have been likened to a war zone. Norm states, “My most successful years have been with teams that practice hard every day. I’m convinced that the toughest team wins.”
With that said, coaching is also profession of love. The affection for the 200 young men who have played for him is obvious when Coach Parrish talks about them. “You become their father, their priest, their counselor. Sometimes they do things that wear on you and make you tired. But you get close to them. You see them grow up right before your eyes.” Parrish told the Deseret News, “Once a player signs his Letter of Intent, I work for them.”
Coach Parrish has the ability to read the heart and see the talent in a person. He speaks with pride of some special young men who were given a chance and have gone on to accomplish much in their lives – Marcell Johnson, Tim Erickson, Chukes Neboh, Tremmell Bullock, Silas Mills, Travis Spivey and Gary Wilkinson to name a few.
When asked what his proudest accomplishment is Coach Parrish said, “Other than the national championship I would have to say it’s earning respect for this program.” “It was hard in the early days” said Parrish, “because of some previous actions by basketball players and coaches. We were not wanted and the program had a poor reputation. We had to earn respect starting with our own faculty and work from there. I feel we have done that. We have become an asset to the school, to the state and contribute in many ways. Athletes who have played at SLCC can be proud of that accomplishment.”
Two of the most memorable victories of Norm’s career occurred in the 2007-2008 season. “Our entire team was deathly ill with the flu. Everyone was sick and we weren’t sure we would have 5 guys ready to play. Players were literally pulling themselves out of the game, throwing up, and going back in while another player took his turn being sick.” That trip was special because SLCC swept North Idaho and Southern Idaho on their home courts. “Those guys were some of the toughest kids I had ever coached.”
Summarizing that season, Assistant Coach Michael Ostlund almost prophetically wrote that the team of 2007-2008 would propel SLCC Men’s Basketball to the next level. He was right. The next season the SLCC team would defend their way to the number one defense in the country and place 2nd at the National Tournament in Hutchinson, Kansas.
But the pinnacle of the first 20 years is winning the National Championship in 2009. With a mere 11 minutes left in the game the Bruin men posted one of the greatest comebacks in NJCAA history with a run of 17 unanswered points to claim the school’s first ever NJCAA Championship, winning with a score of 67-60. When asked how they did it, Norm simply said, “Every kid did their job.” Not taking anything away from the outstanding play of the starters, he credits Drew Robison for coming off the bench to spark the team and begin the rally toward the win. Said Parrish, “One of the toughest things is explaining to an athlete why he is on the bench and then expecting them to accept their role and be selfless enough to be ready when called upon. Drew did just what we asked and was a major reason why we won that game.”
The SLCC Men’s Basketball team found themselves being honored before the Utah Congress at half-time of the Jazz game as well as being cheered throughout the state. “It’s an unbelievably tough accomplishment,” Parrish said. “It’s what every team in the country plays for. Those kids played their tails off – there are no at-large berths. Once you get there you’re in the Sweet 16 and to get there is really tough.”
Coach Parrish stresses to his players the mental and physical toughness required to compete and win at a national level. “Our goal is the national championship – nothing else.”
Regretting that he has not been able to take every team to the national tournament, Parrish states, “There are some amazing kids that I couldn’t get there, and for that I am sorry.”
Norm Parrish is Bruin Basketball, but Bruin Basketball is also part of Norm and that extends to his family. All three of his boys have been born since Norm started at SLCC. The Ricks College coach, Gary Gardner, drove Norm to Idaho Falls to catch a flight home for the delivery of his son Matt. The next day Parrish left his young family and flew to Coeur d’Alene to meet and coach his team. Immediately following the game he traveled with them on the 18 hour bus ride home. When he received the news that his son Collin was on his way, SLCC had just been defeated in the Region Tournament. Again Parrish bought a ticket and caught a flight home making it with a few hours to spare.
“All of my boys have been water boys. They cried when we lost and they cheered when we won!” Parrish jokes, “I’d rather have my boys in a gym than other places they could be.” It hasn’t always been easy for the family however. Norm’s wife Kaye and the boys had to be escorted to their car from the Lifetime Activities Center following a heated game with Snow College. Kaye also recalls a game at Utah Valley when a fan was throwing ice at Norm and the team. Kaye, with boys in tow, found security and told them to stop them or she would. Any of you who know Norm’s wife know she meant it.
A conversation was overheard one day between a faculty member at a major University and Norm Parrish. The faculty member was bragging about the prestige of being at a major University. Norm simply smiled and said, “I’m just trying to build and sometimes save lives.”
“What you are as a person is far more important than what you are or were as a basketball player. Society is teaching it the other way around,” says Parrish. “I find great satisfaction in the wins, but I find even more watching players move on to bigger and better things, seeing them give back to society and watching them with their families. I’m not well liked by everyone. In fact I tease Kaye that 10 new people hate me each year – so that puts me up to around 200. But my goal is to honestly do what I feel is best for the team and for each player individually. Sometimes that is hard to do, but it’s the only way I can sleep at night.”
A lot has changed in 20 years…shorts are longer, hair is smaller and the SLCC gym is nicer. But according to Parrish, not all changes have been good. Norm misses the card games and conversations on the bus that have been replaced by Ipods and personal computers. He is also concerned that the players keep getting younger and younger.
So the rebuilding starts again, year after year. Amazing athletes are expected to listen and buy-in to Coach Parrish’s tough style of play, defense and “Team” ball. It’s obviously a winning recipe as SLCC has won over 433 games as Coach Parrish leads them in his 20th season. During his tenure Parrish has received numerous honors, had 19 NJCAA All-Americans and 24 Academic All-Americans. “It’s not all about the awards. I’ve had many great young men play ball here that left without a trophy.” Winning is not everything, but making the effort to win is. (Vince Lombardi)
If you ask Coach Parrish how he has done it he will tell you, “It is amazing how much can be accomplished when no one cares who gets the credit.” “I owe it all to the kids and the assistants who have helped me along the way. It’s been a great journey, but we’re not done yet!”
Congratulations Coach Parrish on an amazing 20 years and we look forward to 20 more.