UNI Panthers

UNI football adjusts to offensive coordinator Ryan Mahaffey leaving for NFL day before season-opener

Panthers also dealing with injury issues ahead of Saturday's game at Youngstown State

The Northern Iowa Panthers run onto the field at a Northern Iowa Panthers football game with the South Dakota State Jack
The Northern Iowa Panthers run onto the field at a Northern Iowa Panthers football game with the South Dakota State Jackrabbits at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls on Friday, Feb. 19, 2021. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

CEDAR FALLS — Northern Iowa football didn’t even get to kickoff of its spring season-opener before the unusual nature of the unprecedented season confronted it with adversity.

One day before last Friday’s opener against South Dakota State, offensive coordinator Ryan Mahaffey was meeting with athletics director David Harris to inform him of his accepting a position on the Green Bay Packers staff.

While that news came as a shock to Panthers fans on Friday night when he was nowhere to be seen on the sidelines, UNI coach Mark Farley knew of Mahaffey’s interview nearly two weeks before the opener. Farley also knew before that playing in the spring meant he could lose members of his staff as the coaching carousel for FBS and the NFL would be in-season.

“It was too good of an opportunity for him not to leave,” Farley said. “I know it was very hard for him to make that choice. The Packers, Coach (Matt) LaFleur were tremendous talking with me about it, being that we’re in the season he was concerned about our season and the timing of what he was trying to get done. Everybody was working together, but everybody had Ryan Mahaffey’s best interests at heart.”

With Mahaffey gone, first-year offensive assistant and quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson assumed play-calling duties with mixed results in the 24-20 loss to South Dakota State.

Running back Dom Williams gained just 28 yards rushing on 14 attempts against the Jackrabbits and the Panthers were out-gained by SDSU, 310 to 193.

Farley said he’s thought plenty about hiring a new coach quickly, but knows bringing a new mind into the mix mid-season may not be the best path forward.

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“It’s a double-edged sword,” Farley said. “Yes, I would like to (hire someone), but to try and get a guy right now to come in here I don’t want disruption, either. This is an eight-game season. I think you’ve got to be careful with who you bring in to your circle.”

The Panthers were also set back by injuries in Friday night’s loss.

Starting running back Tyler Hoosman (leg) was injured during a Wednesday night practice prior to the game, starting center Mason Neisen (undisclosed) was questionable and did not play. Meanwhile, wide receivers Isaiah Weston (leg) and Quan Hampton (head/neck) were lost during the game.

Farley said Neisen is doubtful for Saturday’s game at Youngstown State, while the others are all questionable.

Beyond those injury concerns, the UNI head coach has another issue on his hands this week as his Panthers are set to play their first game of the season outside — where to practice?

With temperatures finally back above freezing practicing outside won’t be as miserable as it would have just last week, but going on a natural surface is out of the question. In need of a turf field it’s likely a familiar place will offer the Panthers the outdoor surface they need to prepare for the Penguins.

“I’m going to drive over (to Memorial Stadium in Waterloo). Best thing is the sun’s out. That heat will melt this stuff on those turf surfaces that have the black rubbery system in it,” Farley said. “If we can get some of that melted down we might have a chance to get on (that) field.”

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