The man who in 2009 desperately wanted to coach football at Payson High School has been inducted into the National High School Coach Hall of Fame.
Jesse Parker joined the elite group in ceremonies held last week at the National High School Athletic Coaches Association annual meeting in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Being accepted into the Hall of Fame is a great accomplishment befitting the proverbial godfather of Arizona High School football, but induction also has its downfall.
It means Parker is no longer actively coaching, and that’s something the 72-year-old has wanted to do since resigning at Gilbert High School in December 2008.
Just months after stepping down at GHS, Parker was asked by this reporter to apply for the then-vacant Payson High football coaching position.
At first, he was reluctant, saying he didn’t know if he could successfully coach 3A ball as he had done for 40 years in Class 5A football in Arizona and Texas.
But after visiting Payson and the school with his wonderful wife, Latsy, the old-school coach who pulled himself up by his bootstraps from a poor upbringing in rural Ada, Okla. admitted he wanted to be the Longhorns’ next coach.
Only trouble was, the administration didn’t seem, for unknown reasons, to want him; opting instead to toy with a group of candidates by the names of Jason Belshe, Troy Head, Andre Moore and Matt Mayo.
Eventually the administration and school board decided on Mayo, who had no head coaching experience and resigned after one year in which he led the Horns to a highly forgettable 3-7 season.
Too bad for the kids.
So, why did administrators and board members pass on a legendary coach who had racked up 309 career victories and won five state championships in Arizona?
At the time, the reasons given were budget restraints — Parker wanted more than the $2,400 per year coaching stipend.
That’s true, because he owned a home in the Valley and White Mountains and he needed a base amount to rent or buy in Payson.
However, no salaries were ever discussed, as far as I know, and there were never any negotiations between the coach and the administration.
To not negotiate, at least try to bring the coach on board at PHS, was a travesty.
Also, Parker told me he agreed to teach, at least part-time, to earn any salary he would receive.
And guess what? Payson High would have had on staff one of the finest history and government teachers in the state.
For decades Parker has been lauded around the country as a talented, model teacher whose highly praised methods were documented and published for younger teachers to absorb.
One former prep coach who knows him well once told me, “As great a coach as Jesse is, he might be an even better teacher.”
The ultimate slap in the face to the former Mesa Mountain View, Camelback and Gilbert coach occurred just after the school board announced the hiring of Mayo.
It would seem, out of common decency, someone in the district would have phoned Parker to tell him
him he had been passed over. But Parker never received such a call and was left hanging about the job prospects until phoning me on his way home from a vacation trip to visit his brother in Oklahoma.
I had to tell him he would not be coaching at PHS and it was a task I did not enjoy.
Today, I wish I had a nickel for every time I’ve been asked, “What happened to Jesse Parker in Payson, how could the school pass on a teacher and coach like him?”
Each time I’m asked, I only shrug my shoulders and stare ahead in disbelief.
Unable to fathom what occurred in the spring of 2009, my simple reply is most often, “Payson fumbled.”