CEDAR FALLS — Every instinct as a warrior makes Mark Farley want to rush back into action.
There wasn’t a challenge as an all-American linebacker for Northern Iowa in the mid-1980s that Farley did not meet head on. Since taking over as head coach at his alma mater in 2001, Farley has attacked each season in the same manner.
The coronavirus pandemic, however, has given Farley new perspective.
As much as he wants to get his athletes back on campus to begin voluntary workouts, Farley, entering his 20th season, is willing to wait.
“We aren’t going to hurry,” Farley said. “The focus is to do it right, and I can tell you our administration from our President (Mark Nook) to our director of athletes (David Harris) and our department heads across our campus … they are doing it the right way, and we are only going to return in the safest way possible.
“This is a lot bigger than our football team. It’s bigger than all of us. So we have to make sure we are taking care of our community, and if we do that we take care of our football program.”
In a typical year, members of UNI’s football team find their way back to campus June 1 to begin voluntary workouts with strength and conditioning coordinators Jed Smith and Kane Thompson.
And although the NCAA announced it was lifting a moratorium on voluntary workouts on college campuses May 20, with June 1 being the first day programs could start, Farley and UNI’s administration are still working out the details.
Among those questions are: Where will athletes live? How will they enter and exit buildings? And if an athlete develops symptoms of COVID-19, what will be the process to make sure it doesn’t spread? Those items are just a small part of a huge safety checklist the entire UNI administration is pouring over.
“You have to appreciate everyone working on this to make our university and our community safe,” Farley said. “You don’t have to be the first one out of the gate, and I think our administration is doing an exceptional job. When we are ready to go we are going to be ready because of the work they’ve done.”
Farley doesn’t have a date for when the Panthers will be back on campus. Mid-June would be an extraordinary accomplishment, he says.
Work in progressFrom the coaching staff to the student-athletes, work to prepare for the 2020 season has not stopped despite the fact nobody has been on campus for nearly 60 days.
The athletes have gotten creative to keep working out.
“I’m very proud of our coaches in what we have gotten accomplished,” Farley said. “In ways we have gotten stronger. We took the approach that this is in our wheelhouse. This is what UNI is about. We’ve always had to do more with less and find creative ways to get the most out of what we have. That is us.
“We put a great process together for our players when this started so that we could activate them early, and they’ve taken off with it and done a great job. What they have done is just a continuation of what we had already started when things were stopped, so when they get here it will just be a bridge of what we had already been doing.”
Farley and his staff have split their days between planning for the 2020 season and 2021 recruiting.
Recruiting is where the Panther staff has really gotten creative.
In normal years, prospective high school recruits would make campus visits in March and April where they’d get a chance to meet the coaches, meet professors and catch a spring practice. When campuses closed in mid-March those visits disappeared. Then the NCAA canceled the May evaluation period and extended a recruiting dead period in all sports through July 31.
“I think we have grown, and we’re maybe way ahead of our normal in terms of getting our football season ready,” Farley said.
To combat not having on-campus visits, the creative process really expanded.
Accumulating a trove of videos and pictures highlighting the campus, educational programs and football facilities, UNI’s staff produced a 40-minute video/zoom presentation that touches on all things that are important to a recruit.
“All the creativity and all the things we’ve had to do through technology is where we really have grown exponentially as a football staff,” Farley said. “Fortunately, I’ve got some young guys like Ryan Clanton and Keelon Brookins, and those two are in tune to the new age of technology and those type of things.”
A typical virtual visit comes in the form of a Zoom meeting where a potential recruit and his parents will join a Zoom with the entire Panther football staff, go through the presentation and then break off into an individual meeting with his potential position coach.
“Once again, proud of the staff, and what we’ve done has been really beneficial,” Farley said. “Our mindset is to find ways to overcome adversity with determined work ethic and resilience.”