LINCOLN — Reached via social media by a World-Herald reporter, John Parrella said he was “crazy” busy Monday.
The former Nebraska and All-Big Eight defensive tackle should be having a homecoming Tuesday as all signs and reports point to NU coach Mike Riley naming Parrella his defensive line coach, replacing the fired Hank Hughes.
Parrella, who has been a defensive line coach at Division II Northern Michigan since 2014, has declined comment throughout the search process, which passed the two-week mark over the weekend. Riley told a World-Herald reporter on Sunday that NU should have “news” on Tuesday, but also declined comment on a name he’d hire.
But Riley and defensive coordinator Mark Banker know Parrella well. During Parrella’s 12-year NFL career, he played for Riley and Banker while with the San Diego Chargers. For Riley’s entire tenure in San Diego, Parrella never missed a start in 48 regular-season games. At Big Ten media days, Riley briefly noted that Parrella played for him.
Another coach who had Parrella as a player, former Nebraska defensive coordinator Charlie McBride, gushed about Parrella on Monday afternoon.
“He’s as good a player as I had; I could name you five players, and he’d be one of them,” McBride said of Parrella’s playing days at NU.
Born in Kansas, Parrella went from being a walk-on tight end from Grand Island Central Catholic to becoming one of the best defensive linemen in the nation by his senior year, with 77 tackles, five sacks and 23 quarterback hurries.
“Plus his character — he’s special,” McBride said. “He’s great with kids.”
McBride, who has remained close with Parrella over the years but hadn’t heard from him about this particular job, actually watched Parrella in his first coaching job at Valley (California) Christian High School. Parrella started that team from scratch and coached it for four years. McBride watched a few games in Parrella’s first year.
“The kids loved him,” McBride said.
Parrella then coached at Chabot College, a junior college in Hayward, California, for one season before taking the job at Northern Michigan — located in Marquette, which is on the Upper Peninsula of that state. NMU is in the process of rebuilding its program, although, at 5-6, the team recently had its best record in five seasons.
McBride said that, if Parrella is the guy, Nebraska’s staff “vastly improved.” McBride said he’d talked to Banker once before about Parrella.
“Let’s put it this way: If I was a head coach, I’d hire him,” McBride said. “I wouldn’t even fool around with anyone else. He’s loyal as heck, now. He’s never forgotten the people who have helped him along the way.”
At Nebraska, the defensive line is in need of development after the Huskers lost one starter (Jack Gangwish) to graduation and two more starters (Maliek Collins and Vincent Valentine) who declared early for the NFL draft. Although NU may have two seniors (Kevin Williams and Kevin Maurice) who can be plugged in at defensive tackle, it still needs another starting defensive end, and the roster is flush with young, relatively untested talent, including four redshirt freshmen (Alex Davis, Carlos Davis, Khalil Davis and DaiShon Neal).
NU could also stand to get some help in the recruiting arena, as the Huskers swung and missed at several high school and junior college prospects in the 2016 recruiting cycle. Only two defensive linemen visited Nebraska during the season, and one of those was Ashland-Greenwood commit Ben Stille.
Hughes, who had been the defensive coordinator at Cincinnati before taking the job at Nebraska, was unable to close on many of NU’s top targets. Riley fired Hughes on Feb. 5.
Parrella appears to be the guy for the job. He would join the ranks of several ex-Huskers to become a full-time assistant coach for the school, including former offensive line coaches Barney Cotton and John Garrison, former defensive backs coach Marvin Sanders, former quarterbacks coach Turner Gill, former defensive coordinator Craig Bohl and former head coach Frank Solich.
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