Jesse Parker follows Friedli in death by less than 24 hours


Some ‘coincidences’ are really hard to wrap your head around.  Such is the case with the news just days ago of Jesse Parker’s death.

Parker is a high school football coaching legend in Arizona.  He held the record for the most career wins until August of 2009 when Vern Friedli passed him.  (Paul Moro at Marcos de Niza High School took over the career wins record last season.)

Friedli died around 4 a.m. Friday morning.  His long-time friend and colleague, Parker, passed away that night.

In a span of less than 24 hours, the state of Arizona lost a couple of the best coaches the high school sport has ever seen.  They walked the sidelines for a combined 75 years and stacked up 640 wins between them.

Friedli was 80 years old and Parker 77.  Both were in failing health, Friedli the result of a series of strokes over recent years and Parker was battling cancer and a recent bout of pneumonia.  (The previous phxfan article, posted yesterday, details Friedli’s career.)

Parker’s career ran pretty much parallel to Friedli’s since both enjoyed their glory days in the 70’s and 80’s and were fierce rivals, as well as good friends.

Both were ‘old-school’ coaches who were strict disciplinarians and tough on their players went they weren’t getting the kind of hard-nosed play they insisted on.   Friedli was content to stay where he put down roots, in southern Arizona.  He spend 35 years as head coach at Amphitheater High in Tucson.  But Parker was a little more of a nomad.

He won his first state championship while at Camelback High in Phoenix, then left to start the football program at Mountain View High School in Mesa where he won four more titles.  He left for awhile to coach in Texas, but returned to the Valley and spent 10 years trying to revive the football program at Gilbert High.

He retired in 2008 with 309 wins over 40 years coaching high school ball.

Parker lived long enough to serve as guest of honor at last year’s celebration when the football field at Mountain View was named in his honor.  Fans got once last chance to show the man that once began the school’s football program that he hadn’t been forgotten.  Joining in the tribute were alumni that played on the school’s eight championship teams, four of which had been coached by Parker.

It was also a night to mark a new era in Toros football as Mike Fell coached his first game as the team’s new head coach.  The Toros won their opener and went on to post a 7-4 record, which was the best mark that Chad DeGrenier could manage in his five years prior to last season.  His teams managed just three wins in each of the last two seasons.

Parker was asked by the school to help in the search to find a successor to DeGrenier, evidently hoping that some of his success would rub off on the new guy.  They found Fell in Ohio, where he was finishing up 26 years coaching high school.

Whether Fell, the fifth coach in program history, will be able to recapture some of the magic from those glory days under Parker is yet to be seen.  But Fell has the same problem every other coach has had to deal with in the  23 years since Parker built a dominating Toro program that won four state titles and finished runner-up for three more.

Like those before him, Fell’s results will be compared to the man who built a legacy at Mountain View.