NMU football: 12-year NFL veteran Parrella takes over as Wildcats’ defensive line coach

MARQUETTE – Think of ESPN’s Chris Berman referring to that NFL franchise in Oakland, Calif.

“DEEE Raaaaidehs!” he’ll always say.

And when you think of the Raiders in their heyday, it’s a fearsome defensive front that epitomizes them.

The Northern Michigan University football team has a little piece of that tradition with new defensive line coach John Parrella, who played for Oakland in the final three years of a 12-year NFL career from 2002-04.

Parrella, 44, started his pro career with Buffalo in 1993 before going to San Diego for the next eight seasons. He became a part-time starter in 1996 and started virtually every game for the next six seasons.

He finished his NFL career with 405 tackles and 26 1/2 sacks while playing in three Super Bowls.

Slimmed down quite a bit from his playing days, the 6-foot-3 Parrella said he usually weighed 300 pounds during the off-season and bulked up to around 320 during the season.

“I loved playing defensive line,” he said.

Now he’s bringing his knowledge and enthusiasm for the game to the Wildcats.

“Coach Ostrowsky, he’s really building a championship-caliber team and he’s put together a tremendous staff,” Parrella said of Chris Ostrowsky, who is entering his third season as NMU head coach this fall.

Ostrowsky said while he didn’t know Parrella personally before the search process for this position began, they did have friends and other personal contacts in common.

“There were a couple of other people who were also qualified for this job,” Ostrowsky said, “but I’m looking for guys that fit with me.

“(Parrella) brings an extraordinary amount of experience and maturity to the position. His enthusiasm and passion for the game will make him a great asset to the program.”

Ostrowsky’s most direct connection to Parrella is through another NMU assistant, wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator Marcus Knight, who also played for the Raiders from 2000-02. Their one year in Oakland together was the year the franchise last visited the Super Bowl.

“I’m looking at the little things that can help our players become successful,” Parrella said, which sounds a lot like Ostrowsky when he talks about attention to detail.

“The greatest thing is if we have a good work ethic. Unity and toughness is what we are.”

Despite all the attention that linemen get for sacking the quarterback, it is run defense that is the basis for a good defensive line, according to Parrella.

“You have to be able to stop the run,” Parrella said. “If you can’t, teams are going to run all day on you.

“If you do stop the run, then you make an offense more one-dimensional, and that’s when you get the chance to go after the quarterback.”

Most recently, Parrella was an assistant coach at Chabot Junior College in Hayward, Calif. The team won its conference in 2013, then defeated the College of the Siskiyous in the Central Division Bowl in mid-December with a defensive lineman named MVP of the game.

Parrella also started the football program at Valley Christian High School in Dublin, Calif., in 2008 and guided the Vikings to four straight North Coast Section Division IV playoff appearances.

Voted among the 100 Greatest Athletes in Nebraska Cornhusker history, he lettered for three years at the University of Nebraska and was the first Nebraska player selected in the 1993 NFL draft.

Parrella has a bachelor’s degree in child, youth and family studies from NU, and he and his wife Leigh have four sons and a daughter ranging in age from 3 to 20.