CEDAR FALLS, Iowa --- Bryce Paup wanted to shop for a new job.
He found one designed for him.
An All-American linebacker 25 years ago at Northern Iowa and a man with 11 years of experience in the National Football League, Paup is going old school. He’s back with the Panthers as an assistant coach in charge of the defensive line.
As UNI works through spring practice, Paup prowls the UNI-Dome turf with the rest of the staff. So far, he said, his role fits.
“It’s kind of like putting on a good-fitting pair of blue jeans — an old pair of blue jeans,” said Paup. “It just kind of feels comfortable. I’m glad to be back here and glad to be able to help.”
For the past six seasons, Paup was the head football coach at Southwest High School in Green Bay. It was his first job as the leader of a program at any level. Paup learned on the fly, and he built a 43-21 record at Southwest from 2007 through 2012. A total of 41 players earned all-conference honors on Paup’s watch.
“I had them right where I wanted them,” said Paup of his Southwest team.
There was just one problem. Paup wanted to try a new challenge. He considered trying to land a spot in the NFL. Then he noticed that UNI head coach Mark Farley was looking to fill some jobs on his staff.
Paup made the call and threw his name into the mix.
“You just get to the point where there’s a time in your career and in your life when you’re done with something and you need to move on,” he said.
Paup added, “I wasn’t sure I wanted to head to the NFL quite yet. I saw there was an opening (at UNI) and I thought, ‘Well, we’ll see if that’s a fit and see if that works.’”
Paup and Farley, who are friends, began discussing the next move. That process took some time, according to UNI’s head coach, before Paup came on board.
“He called me, which kind of got the process going,” said Farley. “I didn’t know he had an interest, and then it went on from there ... for quite a while.
“It was the process to see the expectations and everything and to make sure it was a good fit — probably moreso for the two of us because we know each other so well. Then it was making sure it was right for him because he hasn’t moved from Green Bay in a long time from his family. He’s pretty set in what he was doing, but this was a chance to try this.”
Over an NFL playing career that carried Paup from the Packers to Buffalo to Jacksonville to Minnesota, Paup considered Green Bay his home. Now, the 45-year-old Jefferson native is back in his home state. He bid farewell to his Southwest High players (“It was very tough,” said Paup). His family will move to the Cedar Valley at the end of the 2012-13 school year.
Paup had been on Farley’s staff as an interim defensive line coach in the spring of 2005. Eight years later, as a fulltime assistant, Paup has a major task — improve UNI’s pass rush.
Last year, the Panthers sacked the opposing quarterbacks 11 times in 11 games. That put UNI tied with Western Illinois for last in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. By contrast, the 2010 Panther defense led the MVFC with 37 sacks in 12 games, and three players (Ben Boothby, Will Eilert and James Conley) finished among the top five in the individual standings.
So Paup has a chance to make a very meaningful contribution as UNI tries to rebound from last year’s 5-6 record.
Said Farley, “If there’s anything (Paup) can bring to the table that we need the most, it’s the pass rush. That’s why it’s a great marriage. He’s excellent at it. And now, can he teach that? It’s one thing to do it, it’s another thing to teach it to somebody. And from what I’ve seen, he has the ability to teach it.”
Paup, who racked up 75 sacks in his 148-game NFL career, deliberately watched a relatively small amount of UNI film from 2012. He wanted to bring a clean slate to spring drills.
Paup wants his Panther linemen to simply get better. It’s a matter of technique, but also sharing his own experience with today’s players.
“I wasn’t the most gifted athlete in the world,” he said. “I worked at it a lot, and I think guys who have to work at it — they understand the techniques and what it takes to get there. I think they have an advantage to being a coach because they weren’t gifted enough to go out and dominate people.”
Paup added, “I had to learn about everything that I did. I can help them learn these techniques.”