A 45 pound plate is a 45 pound plate, just like Johnny Parker is always going to be Johnny Parker, and for the last three years that's meant a head strength coach for the 49ers intent on squeezing every bit of effort out of his players, every single day without fail.
"My approach, and it's something I learned my second year as a teacher and coach, is that my job and my mission was to find out as quickly as I could what each person who I coached or taught was capable of and demand that every day, especially on the days they didn't want to give it," said Parker. "If you were capable of A+, it was going to have to be A+ all the time. Is that realistic, is that fair? No, but neither is life."
Parker quickly developed a reputation within the organization for his no-nonsense approach, and when you stepped into Parker's domain of weights and machines, you better have been ready to abide by his demands.
"Parker is always the same guy. You know exactly what to expect from him. He didn't care if you ran a marathon the day before, if you stepped in his weight room, you had to do what was on his board," said former 49ers defensive lineman Anthony Adams who is now with Chicago. "He didn't have any favorites and he was consistently hard on everybody. That's why I love Johnny Parker."
Parker isn't much of a fan of showing his affection for his players, but as he finished out his final days before retirement, his mutual admiration was as obvious as his accent is southern.
"God didn't bless my wife and me with children, but many of these guys were the sons I never had," confessed Parker. "When you really have a feeling for a person, you don't have to tell them. It shows in your day to day interaction. To me, the sincerest form of caring and love is expecting and demanding the best out of your players while demanding and giving your best."
During 24 years of coaching in the NFL, Parker has given his heart and soul and applied his tough love approach in order to get his players prepared for Super Bowl success. While with the Giants, his club made two Super Bowl appearances, followed by Super Bowl trips with the Patriots and the Buccaneers.
"I've got four Super Bowl rings, but I really like to say only 3.5," said Parker. "I don't like to count the one we lost. I know what it takes to do this at a championship level and being honest with myself, I'm not capable of doing it any longer. I did the best I could, but this isn't a trying business, this is a winning business."
The decision to walk away from a career that has spanned 34 years, including ten years in the collegiate ranks, wasn't an easy one, but Parker said he came to the conclusion by following the high standard self-examination practice of one of his heroes, Winston Churchill.
"Churchill said that every night he would put himself on trial and he would serve as judge, jury and executioner and try himself on the basis of this question, 'did I really accomplish anything or did I just shuffle papers today?' I did the same thing. I asked myself, 'did I help a kid's dream come true, did I help this team win or was I just kind of there, and the things I did were well intentioned, but did they really help?' When that answer became more negative than affirmative, my course was clear."
Parker's 14-week well attended off-season conditioning program will continue on this spring under the direction of his assistant for the last three years in Duane Carlisle, and is one he believes the 49ers current roster will continue to make the most out of as they prepare for the 2008 season.
"These players we have here give lie to the old story about kids today won't work as hard as they used to," said Parker. "Kids today will work harder than they used to and the kids here have high goals and are willing to pay the price to reach them."
As for Parker, he claims to have done his final day of hard work and quite literally plans to sail off into the sunset.
"My plans are real simple," said Parker. "I plan to sit on my porch and read all the great books I haven't, play with my puppies Tuna and Fruitcake, work out and travel. My wife and I are planning to sail in the South Pacific this spring and then we'll see. After a long life of regimentation, I'd like to just find things I think I might like to go do, and go do them, no schedule or anything, just go."
Of course as he goes, there are things that will be hard to leave behind, and some that absolutely won't.
"I've discovered in my career, they have not paid me to work with the players because I'd do that for free," said Parker. "I like to think they paid me to listen to the music. I control the volume and the language, but the players pick otherwise. And that song 'I'm in love with a stripper,' or that 'Riding Dirty,' song, I won't miss that one bit. I won't listen to one second of rap music or hard rock for the rest of my life."
He will however tune in next year on Sundays to watch the 49ers compete, and probably get slightly nostalgic for something that's been not just a game but a way of life.
"I'll miss the competition, I'll miss the interaction with the kids, I'll miss very much meeting a young man with a dream who is willing to work as hard as he can possibly work to make that dream come true," said Parker. "I'll miss that time in the locker room after a win when we are all like 3 year old kids jumping up and down, hugging each other, and saying stupid things. You can't put a price tag on that and there's no substitute for that in the real world."