Raymond "Buddy" Parker
Induction Year: 1991
Raymond “Buddy” Parker coached the Detroit Lions to three consecutive Western Conference championships and two National Football League titles. That made him the first man to enter the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame primarily because of his accomplishments as an NFL coach.
As a player, he was good enough to win the fullback position on any all-time Centenary College team and play six seasons in the NFL.
But his coaching record was extraordinary. So was the way he walked from his last two coaching jobs.
At a “Meet the Lions” banquet two days before the first exhibition game in 1957, Parker made a startling announcement.
“This team of ours has been the worst I’ve ever seen in training,” he said. “I don’t want to get involved in another losing season, so “m leaving Detroit. As a matter of fact, I’m leaving tonight.”
Then he walked out – leaving the audience, including his players, openmouthed in shock.
Parker took over the coaching reins of the Pittsburgh Steelers that season, directing the team to a 6-6 record while his former assistant coach, George Wilson, led Detroit to another NFL title despite the loss of quarterback Bobby Layne (with a broken leg) late in the season.
Layne and halfback Tom Tracy followed their former coach to Pittsburgh one year later and the Steelers were 7-4-1, finishing third in the Eastern Conference behind the New York Giants and Cleveland Browns. They were runners-up to the Giants in 1962, Layne’s final season, and the Steelers were in the thick of the conference race going into their final game in 1963. But they slumped to 5-9 in 1964 – setting the stage for history to repeat itself.
Two weeks before the opening game of the 1965 season, Parker quit again. “I can’t win with this bunch of stiffs,” he said, turning the reins over to assistant coach Mike Nixon.
This time, he wasn’t throwing in a winning hand. The inept Steelers won only two of 14 games. It got worse (1-13 in 1969) before the arrival of Terry Bradshaw, Joe Greene and other Hall of Famers who formed the nucleus of the teams that dominated the NFL in the 1970s.
Parker’s abrupt departures from his last two coaching jobs were true to his fiery temperament. Once, on a flight from the West Coach to Detroit with a team that had lost six consecutive games, he announced that he was placing the entire team on waivers. (The NFL wouldn’t go along with that.) Later, when he was coaching the Steelers, Parker instructed the trainers to tape his hands like a prize fighter because he wanted to fight every player on the team.
“Fortunately,” recalled linebacker Andy Russell, “cooler hands prevailed.”
Parker grew up in Kemp, Texas, and played on Centenary football teams coached by Homer Norton and Curtis Parker (no relation) in 1932-34 that rolled up a 24-game unbeaten streak and shut out 10 consecutive opponents.
Centenary played LSU twice during that streak, beating the Tigers 6-0 in Shreveport in 1932 and battling them to a scoreless deadlock in Baton Rouge one year later. IN the string of 10 straight shutouts, their victims included the University of Arkansas, Baylor, LSU, Texas, TCU, Texas A&M and SMU.
Parker was overshadowed by All-American end Paul “Hoss” Geisler, Ralph Murff, Eddie Townson, Harold “Shorty” Oslin and Manning Smith in 1932 and 1933. But in 1934, he led Centenary scorers with 64 points – nine touchdowns, seven extra points and one field goal. The only other players who scored more than one touchdown were Howard Hooper and Bill Burch with five and three, respectively.
“This boy could take it and give it,” recalled Curtis Parker. “In addition to being an offensive powerhouse, he was a great linebacker.”
In pro football, Parker displayed much more than a fiery disposition.
Doak Walker, who won the Heisman Trophy at SMU, played on the 1952 and 1953 championship teams.
“He had one of the most brilliant football minds that ever existed,” Walker said of Parker.
When he noticed that the Cleveland Browns were keying on his offensive guards, Parker installed a “false lead” play in which both guards pulled in opposite directions and the tackles blocked down. With all of the “keys” indicating sweeps to both sides, that left the middle of the field wide open for John Henry Johnson. The 1952 Lions chalked up Detroit’s first title in 17 years with a 17-7 victory over the Browns and the 1953 team squeezed past the Browns 18-17, Cleveland quarterback Otto Graham didn’t throw a touchdown pass in either title game.
“He wasn’t a bedcheck man,” recalled Lions defensive back Yale Lary. “He didn’t care what you did off the field, but he wanted you to produce on the field.”
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