Jimmy Dale “Red” Parker would have loved to hang around long enough to see Clemson play Alabama on Monday night.
His heart just couldn’t hold out long enough. But he’ll still be pulling for the Tigers.
Red died Monday morning of complications from heart disease at the age of 84, less than two months after coaching his last game in Fordyce. No, seriously, how strange these things turn out. The place where he started coaching in 1953 is where his Haskell Harmony Grove team lost in the first round of the state playoffs.
Like Bear Bryant — who was one of Red’s advisors throughout his coaching career — he just didn’t last long after he finally gave it up.
He was laid to rest in Alexander on Friday, and few pointed out that he was part of the Clemson-Alabama connection … sorta.
With all of the talk about the Clemson-Alabama historical connection, Red wasn’t mentioned very often. The truth is he never would have gotten the job at Clemson in 1973 if Bryant hadn’t basically pushed for him to get the job.
“Coach Bryant did give me one piece of advice I still kick myself for ignoring,” Red said one day when he still had a Chevrolet dealership in Fordyce where his office consisted of a pair of recliners in the middle of the showroom with a telephone on a small table between them.
“He told me not to hire Charley Pell as an assistant even though he had coached him. ‘Red, you just can’t trust him,’ was what Coach Bryant told me. That turned out to be an understatement.”
Red forgave Pell in 2001.
He never forgot.
“Yeah, Charley called me just before he died and apologized for stabbing me in the back at Clemson,” Red said in the summer of 2001 before going on a radio show. “I knew he was dying, so I told him I forgave him for it. But I’ll never forget it.”
It’s easy to wonder what-if Pell hadn’t managed to talk some Clemson boosters into pushing Red out the door after the 1976 season.
“We knew ’75 was going to be rough because we were short on players,” Red said nearly two decades later. “But we had a pretty good team in ’76 until we had more injuries to key players in one season than I had my whole career total. That set the tone for Charley to do what he did.”
He was happy Danny Ford won the national title at Clemson in 1981.
“Danny did a great job,” Red said in later years. “None of the players we recruited were still around, but he did call me after he won it and said the building blocks and some of the programs we put in place were a big part of him winning there.
“I don’t know how much of it was true, but it was really nice for him to call and say that.”
Red did land on his feet, even managing to get back into the big time as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach under Billy Brewer at Ole Miss.
The Rebels were on the verge of breaking through to get back near the top of the SEC pecking order with talent accumulated by Max Howell’s recruiting efforts before the NCAA got wind of some extra benefits a few players were getting.
Nearly all of the assistants jumped off that sinking ship and Red won a couple of more state titles at Rison, the place where he played high school football before an ill-fated tenure at Ouachita Baptist that didn’t turn out too well with a 10-20 record over three years.
He coached at Bearden, Woodlawn and, finally, at Harmony Grove, where he started the football program at what was previously an all-basketball school.
Everywhere he went, those high schools had their best records ever.
Red always related to the players, regardless of his age.
He was also regularly sought out for his offensive advice. One day in 1993 at his Chevy dealership, the phone rang on the table between the recliners.
“Oops, not many folks have this number … hang on a minute,” he told his visitor.
For 10-15 minutes, Red gave his opinions on what to do with this player or that player. He was discussing NFL players.
“Who was that, Red?” the visitor asked when he finally hung up the phone.
“Aw, Parcells can’t figure out what to do with what he walked into up there in New England,” Red said. “One thing’s for sure, though … it’s too cold for me to go up there and help him out.”
Red seldom laughed, delivering quips with a deadpan delivery that actually wasn’t fake.
He was always good with some insight into the latest offensive football innovation. He broke it down into fairly simple terms.
I knew Red because he knew my father when he was in the 10th grade at Rison and they played on the same football teams.
“We looked up at your dad like he was some sort of greek god or something in high school,” Red said one day in Hampton on the sidelines before his Wildcats team played a game in 1993. “It was like a grown man playing with a bunch of little kids.”
“Well, Red, it really wasn’t fair,” I told him. “You know he’d been in the Marines for several years in World War II and came out a junior in high school.”
“Oh,” Red said in the shortest amount of words I’d ever heard him say. “That would explain that.”
Red always had time to visit. Whether it was with a high school kid in the back of a pool hall in Warren (it was kinda the hangout for all the kids back then) or providing insight into the latest football innovation or doing an interview, he always had time to talk.
And he never forgot anybody or any detail. Ever.
That made him a legendary figure to those who knew him, even more than the wins he piled up at most of his coaching stops.
He is one who will be greatly missed.