CEDAR FALLS — David Harris has been Northern Iowa’s athletics director since March 28, 2016.
This week, 31 months later, he signed a contract extension with President Mark Nook to remain a Panther through June of 2025.
“I feel great,” Harris said on 1650 KCNZ radio this week. “For us, when you look at the fact that; we love being Panthers, we want to be here, our kids are happy here — for us it was really an easy decision to make the commitment and move forward.”
A lot has happened in Harris’ first three years — including Nook replacing former president Bill Ruud February of 2017, a new on-campus tennis center, a softball hitting facility and a healthy amount of athletic and academic success. However, among all the successes, and real or perceived shortcomings to date, UNI football’s snub of a top-8 seed in the FCS Playoffs last Sunday provoked some of the most pointed and candid remarks from the Panthers AD since arriving in Cedar Falls.
“From a South Dakota State standpoint I don’t see them as having played a strong non-conference schedule at all, and I don’t think anybody would say that,” Harris said. “I see us as being clearly the team that should have been a seeded team.”
Quickly following the Panthers’ seed snub were calls from fans on social media, and very likely Harris’ email inbox, for scheduling changes.
Asked if any philosophical change was on the horizon, Harris was noncommittal, but didn’t spare details when the topic of buy games came up.
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“For us, (a buy game) is a significant financial commitment,” Harris said. “When I look at us bringing in Hampton (in 2018) that was probably a $200,000 expense to be able to bring them in.”
Harris pointed toward the department’s academic and athletic successes when asked about glimpses of fan frustration of a perceived lack of progress with facilities. “Panthers Rising,” Harris’ strategic plan he unveiled in late August last year, included a new basketball practice facility, football team meeting room, on-campus soccer facility, outdoor artificial football turf, West Gym and McLeod Center upgrades, outdoor track resurfacing and the obvious UNI-Dome renovation.
“If you’re looking at facilities, that’s an area where we haven’t made as much headway as we have in some other areas, but that ultimately doesn’t mean that we’re not going to make headway in those areas,” Harris said. “Many of the (facility) things we’ve done were not listed on the strategic plan.”
Harris didn’t hesitate when it came to what will accelerate any perceptions of strategic plan slowness or shortcomings.
“Those (facility upgrades) cost significant amounts of money. So, I would say for anyone out there who is certainly questioning what we have done or what we are going to do, I would ask them whether or not they are contributing at all to Panther athletics,” Harris said. “If this is important to them — important enough to them certainly that they would ask me a question about it — they need to understand that we need supporters for our program, and supporters are people who are willing to make a financial investment in what we’re doing. Nothing significant is going to happen by just wishing it and it’s not going to happen by sitting back and being critical. I have no problem with people who are wanting us to do more, wanting to see us accomplish more.”