CEDAR FALLS — Northern Iowa head coach Mark Farley had two holes to fill on his coaching staff this offseason.
Ryan Clanton, a former Oregon Duck under Chip Kelly, was hired to coach the offensive line. Aairon Savage, a former Auburn All-American (Rivals, 2006), was hired to coach defensive backs.
Savage, in his early 30s, joins the Panthers in a similar vein as many Farley assistants before him — young, bright-minded, and looking for an opportunity with a program that has a good reputation. Savage says he’s found that in Cedar Falls.
“It’s a no-brainer, man,” Savage said. “To be in the premiere conference of FCS football (Missouri Valley) and have a chance to learn and grow under coach Farley, you can’t ask for a better situation.”
After a collegiate career that became marred by injuries Savage stayed at Auburn as a graduate assistant in 2011 and 2012. Most recently he coached at Army, with stops at Arkansas Tech, Georgia Tech and Valdosta High School prior to West Point. The 2010 national champion has been a part of a number of respected programs at this point in his career, but UNI — which he says “football junkies” are well-aware of throughout college football — offered him the right opportunity.
“The wealth of knowledge that’s here — the ability to grow, the ability to put your input in, And of course the ability to recruit great kids in this area of the United States in the Midwest,” Savage said of why he wanted to come to UNI. “I hear the UNI-Dome gets really loud and really rocking (during) the season so I’m really looking forward to getting there.”
Savage said he takes pride in being a well-rounded coach, but he’ll always be technique-focused. The graduations of Elijah Campbell and Malcolm Washington meant a third of UNI’s 21 interceptions were gone from the roster, leaving Savage to relentlessly teach and reinforce technique this spring to a group of young and inexperienced defensive backs.
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That includes Austin Evans, Jamahl Scott, Korby Sander, Roosevelt Lawrence and Isaiah Nimmers, among a few others.
Nimmers, a former Cedar Rapids Washington standout is among the names in the mix this spring for a starting position in the secondary. He started Week 1 last season against Iowa State and totaled a career-high five tackles, then returned to a reserve role for the remainder of the season, playing in 10 games.
Nimmers’ first-year head coach has been particularly impressed by the former Warrior.
“I’ll tell you a funny story about (Isaiah),” Savage said. “Every day to start the season, (he’s the) first one out (to practice) and he’s always trying to perfect his craft. He’s a really strong guy. He’s a more mature kid. Quiet guy, but he leads in a silent, strong way which is awesome to me.”