UNI head coach Mark Farley, once known as the “walk on from Waukon”, has led the Panthers to a mark of 120-56 in his 14 years at the helm of the program.
In Missouri Valley Football Conference play, Farley has guided the Panthers to a record of 73-31 for an impressive .701 winning percentage in league play. Farley is the MVFC’s all-time coaching wins leader with 73 league victories.
Included in that 14-year run for Farley and the Panthers are seven conference championships, eight playoff appearances, 11 top-25 final rankings, three national semifinal appearances and one national title game appearance in 2005. Farley holds the UNI record for postseason coaching victories with 11. He is 11-8 all-time in the FCS playoffs.
Heading into his 15th year as the Panther mentor, Farley never has felt more at home. Through his leadership, the Panthers have returned to the glory days when they won seven straight conference titles and made seven consecutive FCS playoff appearances in the decade of the ‘90s. In Farley’s 14 years at the helm, UNI has won at least a share of seven Missouri Valley Football Conference titles. UNI has also advanced to the quarterfinals (2003, 2007, 2011), semifinals (2001, 2008) and the national title game (2005) in six of those eight playoff appearances. Eleven of Farley’s 14 previous Panther teams have finished the season ranked in the top-25.
The Panthers reached its eighth FCS Playoff appearance and 11th top-25 final ranking under the direction of Farley in 2014 after a record breaking season on and off the field. Farley saw six different athletes get named to seven different All-America squads and 13 earn All-Missouri Valley Football Conference honors. During the 2014 season, Farley led the Panthers to wins over then undefeated Illinois State and North Dakota State, ending the Bison’s 33-game winning streak.
Out of UNI’s 13 All-MVFC selections, Farley was key in the development of All-American running back David Johnson, who broke 15 school records during the 2014 season. Johnson was named to four separate All-America squads his senior year, including earning the title of College Football Performance Awards All-Purpose Performer of the Year. On the defensive side of the ball, Farley oversaw the Panther corps earn a top-15 ranking in the FCS in eight different categories, including a No. 3 ranking in team sacks.
The 2013 season started on a bright note with the Panthers going 4-0 for the first time since 2007, jumping as high as fourth in the FCS rankings. The Panthers opened the season with a huge win over FBS and in-state foe Iowa State, defeating the Cyclones 28-20 in Ames. UNI spent seven weeks ranked in the top-15 and received votes from both the Coaches and Sports Network polls for the remaining five weeks of the season.
Farley led a young team in 2013 to an overall record of 7-5 and 3-5 in the MVFC. He was at the helm to see 12 student-athletes earn all-conference honors and three finish with All-American recognition, including star placekicker and seven-time All-American Tyler Sievertsen. UNI faced four ranked teams during the season, defeating No. 9 McNeese State and No. 9 Youngstown State, while also playing No. 1 North Dakota State to just a one-point deficit.
During the 2012 season, Farley led a young Panther squad through a rough schedule, finishing 5-6 overall and 4-4 in the MVFC. Farley put confidence in a young quarterback from Oklahoma as Sawyer Kollmorgen guided UNI through the season, eventually picking up MVFC Freshman of the Year and MVFC Newcomer of the Year awards. The Panthers faced two BCS opponents and four ranked FCS opponents during the season. UNI now has 69 wins over top-25 opponents.
UNI won back-to-back MVFC titles in 2011 following a 7-1 run through the league. UNI clinched a share of the MVFC title with a 23-20 double-overtime win at Illinois State to close the regular season. The Panthers also achieved Farley’s sixth 10-plus win season since taking over in 2001. The Panthers posted a mark of 4-2 against ranked foes in 2011, including a 28-21 win over No. 12-ranked Wofford in the second round of the FCS playoffs.
The Panthers won their third MVFC title in four years in 2010. The Panthers started slow at 2-3 following an overtime loss at Southern Illinois, but rallied to win five games in a row and clinched the regular season conference title with a week remaining in the regular season. UNI eventually dropped a 14-7 opening round NCAA Playoff game to Lehigh to end the 2010 campaign. UNI led the MVFC in rushing offense (216.58 yards/game), rushing defense (104.42 yards/game), sacks (3.08/game) and tackles-for-loss (6.92/game). UNI ranked No. 9 in the nation in sacks, No. 9 in rushing offense and No. 10 in rushing defense.
In 2009, the Panthers rose to No. 2 in the national polls following a 5-1 start to the season. Included in that run was a near-upset of the Iowa Hawkeyes at Kinnick Stadium.
In 2008, Farley directed the Panthers to back-to-back conference championships for the first time since the 1995-1996 seasons. The Panthers posted a mark of 12-3 overall and earned a No. 3 seed in the NCAA FCS Playoffs. UNI scored a pair of playoff wins over Maine and New Hampshire.
The Panthers’ 2007 season will go down in the books as one of the finest ever. UNI became the first team in the 23-year history of the Missouri Valley Football Conference to post a perfect 11-0 regular season. UNI also became the first MVFC team to record a perfect 6-0 mark in road games. The Panthers attained the No. 1 ranking in the Sports Network poll and held the top spot for the final six weeks of the regular season.
As a result of the Panthers’ success in 2007, fans came out in droves to the UNI-Dome. UNI set a single-season average attendance record by drawing 16,118 fans per game. Also, for the first time in school history UNI sold out three straight games in the Dome beginning with a Homecoming crowd of 17,074 vs. Southern Illinois, followed by Youngstown State with 16,528 and Indiana State with 16,624.
When the year was done the accolades rolled in with Farley earning National Coach of the Year honors in winning the Eddie Robinson Award, an honor given to the top FCS coach by The Sports Network. Farley was also named the 2007 Bruce Craddock MVFC Coach of the Year.
In 2006, Farley guided the Panthers to another top-25 ranking and a second-place finish in the ultra-competitive Missouri Valley Football Conference. UNI’s offense finished the year ranked No. 4 in the nation and senior defensive back Dre Dokes led the nation with seven interceptions.
Farley’s 2005 Panthers made school history by reaching the first NCAA FCS national championship game in the program’s history. The Panthers reached the final by edging out No. 15 Eastern Washington (38-35), No. 1-ranked New Hampshire (24-21) and No. 4 Texas State (40-37) in overtime.
UNI’s 2005 Missouri Valley Football Conference title run is one that will stick in the memory banks of all Panther fans. UNI dropped to 2-2 in the league and 4-3 overall after a disappointing 38-3 loss to Illinois State.
“We talked after that game that our goal was to go from worst to first - and not just first in the Gateway conference,” Farley said.
The Panthers then pulled off the unthinkable as they knocked off three-ranked opponents in three weeks to capture a share of the conference title.
UNI scored a 21-7 home win over No. 11-ranked Youngstown State. UNI followed it up with an amazing 23-20 double-overtime win at No. 6 Western Kentucky. Western Kentucky was set to win the game on the final play, but UNI’s Everette Pedescleaux blocked the field goal and the Panthers eventually won the game on a 20-yard touchdown strike from Eric Sanders to Justin Surrency.
The Panthers concluded their conference run with a dramatic, come-from-behind thriller with No. 4-ranked Southern Illinois in a raucous UNI-Dome in front of 15,536 fans. The Panthers trailed 24-10 entering the fourth quarter but responded with 15 points in the final 15 minutes to score a 25-24 win. UNI scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 4th-and-2 when Sanders hooked up with Jamie Goodwin for a 35-yard score. UNI then held the Salukis when senior linebacker Darin Heideman nabbed SIU running back Arkee Whitlock short of the first down marker and the celebration was on.
“I think it’s the most quality team you could put together,” Farley said. “When I say a team, it was 56 guys who stepped up, put together a run and beat many teams, and we had to do it on the road. It’s hard to put together a team like this without any superstars, but with guys who were always there for you and believed in each other. It’s a special group.”
Farley earned Northwest Region Coach of the Year honors from Don Hansen’s Football Gazette, and he finished 15th in the Eddie Robinson Award balloting.
“This is home to me,” he said at the time of his selection as UNI’s head coach. “Through football, I’ve been presented with great opportunities in my life and this is by far the best experience. I am so excited for this opportunity.”
In his first season, Farley led the Panthers back to the FCS elite. UNI finished 11-3 overall in 2001, placed first in the Gateway Football Conference with a 6-1 mark, and advanced to the FCS national semifinals for the fifth time in school history. It was the Panthers’ first conference title and playoff appearance since 1996.
During the season, UNI defeated five ranked FCS opponents and FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) opponent Ball State, which went on to defeat Motor City Bowl-bound Toledo later in the year. The Panthers finished the season ranked fourth in both The Sports Network and ESPN/USA Today final FCS polls.
The conference and the nation took notice. Farley was named the league’s Bruce Craddock Coach of the Year and American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) Region 4 Coach of the Year. He placed third in the Eddie Robinson Award balloting. He received 16 first-place votes, the most of any candidate. He still sits atop the conference with the best record for rookie coaches.
The following year did not live up to pre-season expectations following the success of 2001 as the Panthers finished 5-6 overall. Injuries, graduation and inexperience on defense took a toll.
The Panthers re-grouped in 2003 to claim a share of the conference title when it won a hard-fought, come-from-behind contest against previously undefeated and No. 2-ranked Southern Illinois in the final regular season game. UNI went on to defeat No. 24-ranked Montana State in the UNI-Dome in the first round of the playoffs, then was sent on the road to No. 3 and eventual national champion Delaware, where it fell 37-7 on a cold and snowy afternoon to finish 10-3 overall. The Panthers were ranked fifth in The Sports Network/CSTV final Top 25.
Throughout the season, UNI defeated four ranked teams and appeared on television five times. Farley again was a finalist for the Eddie Robinson Award.
When all was said and done in 2004, the Panthers were judged on their first five games, and not their final six. Despite six consecutive victories by an average margin of 23.7 points, UNI couldn’t overcome a 1-4 start to begin the year. As a result, the Panthers were passed over for the FCS playoffs but finished on a high with a 7-4 record, including a 5-2 mark in the always tough MVFC to place third behind post-season selections Southern Illinois and Western Kentucky. Their strong finish earned them a No. 25 ranking in both The Sports Network and ESPN/USA Today final polls.
Farley grew up not far from Cedar Falls, and the UNI-Dome, in a small community called Waukon. He was a three-sport standout at Waukon High School. He played quarterback his junior year and tailback his senior year, while also seeing time at strong safety. He was a forward on the basketball team (all-conference two years) and a pitcher and short stop for the baseball team (all-conference three years). Despite his success, he wasn’t highly recruited and he took a year off before pursuing his college degree.
His job as a truck driver brought him through Cedar Falls each Monday. He would drop into the UNI-Dome to check out the Panther football team. In the fall of 1982, he walked on to the team, redshirting that first season. He received the Special Team Award his second year, then became a starting inside linebacker three years. He earned honorable mention all-America honors twice, was named MVFC co-Defensive Player of the Year, was selected a team co-captain, and was named a two-time academic all-American. He led the team in tackles three consecutive years.
During Farley’s three years as a starter, UNI compiled a 27-7-1 record and advanced to the 1985 FCS semifinals.
“When I came (for the interview), I wanted to stop back (in the Dome),” Farley said. “I came to the doors and I stood on that balcony on the concourse. I just wanted to get that energy from the Dome, because there’s still something about this place. I looked at the banners and remembered the players that were here. We can be proud of this university in football.”
Farley went straight from a player to a graduate assistant for two years under Coach Darrell Mudra and then was elevated to a full-time assistant. Between 1987-96, he was the position coach for such former UNI stars as Bryce Paup, James Jones, William Freeney and Andre Allen. Paup and Jones went on to play in the NFL, of course, while Allen and Freeney played in the Arena League and CFL. Four times Farley’s players were named league Defensive Players of the Year.
In total, he coached five UNI all-Americans and 22 all-conference selections the first time around on staff. He also was the punt return specialist. That segment had a NCAA average ranking of sixth from 1989-1993, with two second-place statistical rankings. He also served as the team’s Strength and Speed Coordinator. He was a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and a Certified Level 1 Coach of the U.S. Weightlifting Federation. He designed and coordinated the reconstruction of UNI’s strength facility and implemented individualized computer weight training programs.
With the success of individual players, the Panther program grew into a national power under Mudra and then, Terry Allen. As previously mentioned, UNI won seven consecutive MVFC titles, made seven straight FCS playoff appearances between 1990-1996, eight total, including advancing to two semifinal games. The Dome was packed with several sellouts.
In an interview following Farley’s hiring, Mudra, a former head coach at Florida State, now retired and living in Florida, said, “I had three helpers who went on to become NFL head coaches. Farley is as good as any coaching prospect I worked with. I just feel like (UNI) couldn’t have hired a better guy. He’s a perfect fit for that situation. I think he’s bright - real bright. Probably the most important thing is, he’s really involved in football. If you cut his head open, nothing would come out but footballs. He’s real intense.”
Jones, a 1991 NFL third-round pick by the Cleveland Browns, said of Farley in a post-hire interview, “He makes athletes get the most out of themselves. One thing all of us under him did was work hard. That’s the way he coached it, and that’s what he expected out of you. He was just one of those coaches you wanted to go out there and play your hardest for. He’ll probably still have (that) energy when he’s 65. That’s just Coach Farley.”
When Terry Allen left the Panthers in 1997 to become head coach at the University of Kansas, Farley was one of UNI’s assistants to follow. Farley was the Jayhawks’ inside and outside linebacker coach. In Lawrence, he coached two all-Big 12 players, one all-American and five Players of the Week. He produced the KU all-time sack leader for season and career and recruited the 1999 Big 12 Newcomer of the Year. He was rated one of the top recruiters in the Midwest by MoKan Recruiting Service. He also assisted with the punt return and block specialists. His players blocked or returned a punt for a touchdown against 11 of the league teams at least once.
Having worked under, or played for, three of the best football minds in Mudra, Earle Bruce and Allen, there’s little doubt Farley knows football. However, it is also his passion, not only for the game, but for the University of Northern Iowa, that has helped carry the Panthers back to the top of FCS football.
“This program is not broken,” Farley said upon his appointment. “(The previous staff did) a good job...We just want to take it a step higher, raise the bar to our expectations at the University of Northern Iowa. We want to win the Gateway - we WILL win the Gateway ... people are scared to come in (the UNI-Dome). We want to fill this place. You don’t know how exciting it was as a player and as a coach with 16,000 people, keys ringing all the time on kickoffs. That’s neat. I love it when the opposing team stands at that doorway down there and that is all happening.
“I want our players to feel that because that is a special feeling, and that is why we’re here and that’s what we’re after to achieve, because if you win the Gateway, you can win the national championship. That’s how tough this conference is.”
Farley also is a players’ coach, a coach willing to listen to his players, but who also sets high standards for his team. He set the tone in his first meeting with the squad.
“The first thing that we talked about was this program,” he said. “This program is the most important thing. It was here before we were here, and it will be here after we leave. Right now, we represent this program and this university. We represent the community, we represent the state, and we will do everything that we can to put UNI football at the level we’re proud of and always have been at this university. This place is important to alumni, just as it is to me.”
The Farley File Awards & Honors
- 2007 Eddie Robinson Award recipient
- 2007 Schutt Sports FCS Coach of the Year by American Football Monthly
- 2007 Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year finalist
- 2007 Led UNI to first perfect regular season in Gateway history
- 2005 Guided UNI to first national title game appearance
- 2005 Northwest Region Coach of the Year (Football Gazette)
- 2001, 2007 AFCA NCAA FCS Region 4 Coach of Year
- 2001, 2007 Gateway Bruce Craddock Coach of the Year
- Placed 3rd in 2001 Eddie Robinson Award balloting
- Placed 10th in 2003 Eddie Robinson Award balloting
- Placed 12th in the 2008 Eddie Robinson Award balloting
- Placed 15th in 2005 Eddie Robinson Award balloting
- Best record (11-3) for MVFC rookie coach Coaching Experience
- 1986-88Graduate Assistant, University of Northern Iowa
- 1989-97Assistant Coach, University of Northern Iowa (Inside & Outside Linebackers, Punt Return Specialist, Strength & Speed Coord.)
- 1996Recruiting Coordinator, University of Northern Iowa
- 1997-2000Assistant Coach, University of Kansas (Inside & Outside Linebackers, Punt Block/Return Specialist)
- 2001-PresentHead Coach, University of Northern Iowa Education
- Waukon (IA) High School, 1981
- University of Northern Iowa, 1987 (Bachelor of Arts, Education)
- University of Northern Iowa, 1994 (Master's in Health Education) Playing Experience/Highlights
- University of Northern Iowa, 1983-86
- Three-year starter at inside linebacker
- Led the team in tackles 1984-86
- 1985 Gateway Conference Co-Defensive Player of the Year
- Co-captain of 1985 1-AA national semi-final team
- Three-time first team all-conference
- Two-time honorable mention all-American
- Two-time academic all-American
- Outstanding Senior Athlete-Variety Club of Iowa
- UNI Purple and Old Gold Award
- Familiar Names Played With
- Brian Baker, Bill Bealles, Jeff Bealles, Carl Boyd, Mark Caballero, Spencer Cowan, Joe Fuller, Mark Hanssen, Larry Miller, Mike Molstead, Joe O'Brien, Bryce Paup, Errol Peebles, Mike Smith, Mark Steines, Art Stelken, Bob Storbeck
- Familiar Names Coached
- Andre Allen, Brannon Carter, Dre Dokes, William Freeney, Brandon Keith, James Jones, Bryce Paup, Chad Rinehart, Eric Sanders, Benny Sapp, Brian Wingert, Austin Howard, James Ruffin, Quentin Scott, Corey Lewis
- Born: April 5, 1963
- Hometown: Waukon, Iowa
- Family: Wife Lori; sons Jake and Jared; daughter Jamie