Chris Parker has been successful at all of his previous stops.
He’s hoping that his fifth destination is no different.
Pope John Paul II High School announced on Monday that Parker will be its next head baseball coach.
Parker succeeds Michael Brown, who announced that he would resign at the end of this season approximately three weeks ago. Brown has compiled a 174-110 record over nine seasons of leading the Knights.
“I know that’s a hotbed for baseball, that area of Tennessee,” the 42-year-old Parker said. “I love the league that they play in. (Ensworth head coach) Jason Maxwell is one of my best friends. I grew up with Jason. That’s a great league. You have to pack your lunch every day.
“I owe Coach (Michael) Brown a lot of respect. We used to play back when I was at Cascade. I can’t say enough about the job he’s done. I think we can build on what Coach Brown has done and make it not (just) a state but a national powerhouse.”
The school received interest from approximately 50 individuals – from seven different states – and conducted five in-person interviews.
“The resume intrigued me,” PJP II athletic director and assistant baseball coach John Dempsey said of Parker. “You sit down and talk to Chris and see how passionate he is about the game. He wants to develop baseball players.”
Parker is in the midst of his second season as the head coach at East Hickman High School after stints at Cascade, Blackman and Forrest. He helped the first three of those programs to the state tournament (Cascade in 2007, Blackman in 2009 and Forrest in 2014) in addition to three other sectional appearances (Cascade in 2008, Blackman in 2010 and Forrest in 2013).
“To me, it’s just exciting,” Parker said of the opportunity at PJP II. “I really liked Coach Dempsey and Mr. (Mike) Deely (the PJP II headmaster). I really liked them and am excited. You see the stuff outside, the football field and baseball field and know they care about athletics. When I walked into the school and saw it, I was taken back. It’s exciting to be at a place like that.
“I’m not a person who has backed down from a challenge. I’ve played the Farraguts of (Class) AAA, the Huntingdons of A. It’s not just the players you play against (in Division II) but the coaches you coach against.”
His success at East Hickman doesn’t quite compare to those first three stops, compiling an 8-21 record last year and a 12-14 mark this season. However, each of those win totals set the program’s single-season record for victories.
“He’s taken three teams to the state tournament,” Dempsey said. “In a short tenure, he has set the school record for wins in two years.
“As far as JPII baseball, we have great facilities, a great administration and a great program. We’ve knocked on the door. We’d like to kick it in. Chris is a guy who wants to work with the youth in the area. Guys are going to want to play for him.”
Parker has recently been affiliated with USA Baseball as a task force representative, helping select players for USA Baseball’s national teams in some of the younger age groups.
For the past six years, Parker has also been the head coach of Team Tennessee, consisting of 20 of the state’s top rising sophomores and juniors who play against other states’ top players over a 7-10-day stretch. Since 2010, Parker has led the Tennessee contingent to a combined record of 51-9, two championships (in 2011 and 2012), three runner-up finishes (2010, 2014 and 2015) and a third-place showing (2012). Tennessee became the first team to win back-to-back Junior Sunbelt titles in 2011 and 2012.
He coached PJP II junior pitcher Mason Hickman – a Vanderbilt University commit – last summer, and he will again lead the team this summer, which will include Hickman and PJP II junior shortstop Ben Brooks (a University of Memphis commit).
“Having the best pitcher in the state coming back and the best shortstop in the state doesn’t hurt either,” Parker said. “They’re really good kids, and the icing on the cake is that they’re really good baseball players.
“I like all the groceries over there in the cabinet.”
The Knights have just four seniors – Virginia Military Institute signee Ryan Hatten (a first baseman), pitcher Dalton Heath, designated hitter Jeff Valera and third baseman Garrett Taylor.
PJP II is coming off of its second appearance in the four-team state tournament, having also reached the state quarterfinals twice in Brown’s tenure.
“You’re goal each year needs to be in order … region championship, state tournament and state championship and then see how you stack up against people nationally,” Parker said.
The Knights are currently in second place in the Division II-Class AA East/Middle Region but could place first with a sweep of first-place McCallie this weekend.
“It’s a delicate situation,” Dempsey said. “Coach Brown is handling this year fine. He’s all in. That’s a credit to him for that.
“We met with the team today and talked with them about (hiring Parker). We gave them a little background on Chris. We started something here, and we have a final series this weekend. We owe it Coach Brown and to our seniors to go as far as we can.”
Parker plans to relocate with his wife Jessica, who is also a teacher and has served as an assistant basketball coach at both Creek Wood High and Dickson County High. Parker’s daughter Taylor is a freshman softball and basketball player at Cannon County High School, and he has three other children – eight-year-old stepson Jackson, seven-year-old daughter Lylah and two-year-old son Gant.
“The academics (at PJP II) is second to none across the state of Tennessee,” Parker said. “That means a great deal to me. It’s an opportunity for my kids to go there.
“It’s a place I’d like to put the trunks of the tree in the ground and stay there. We’re hoping we can find Mrs. Parker a job there in the area and hope to relocate there.”
Reach Craig Harris at email@example.com or at 615-575-7138. Follow him on Twitter @HarrisGNESports.