CEDAR FALLS – There’s a name that’s pretty synonymous with Northern Iowa football. Cedar Rapids native and Regis grad Kurt Warner won two NFL MVPs, one Super Bowl, and is one of the most recognizable quarterbacks of the last 20 years.
But there’s another guy who had a long and successful NFL career of his own, and is back in Cedar Falls to impart some of his wisdom as the defensive line coach for the Panthers.
That guy is Northern Iowa Hall of Famer and 1995 NFL Defensive MVP Bryce Paup.
“Right now, I can’t imagine coaching at another college,” Paup said. “It would just be weird because I know the history (at Northern Iowa) and I’m proud of the history. There’s more for me to pull on.
“Even though I may hit the skids emotionally, but it’s not for too long because I’m vested here. I’ve got time put in, years put in here.”
Drafted by the Green Bay Packers in 1990, Paup also played for the Buffalo Bills (1995-97, making the Pro Bowl each year), Jacksonville Jaguars (1998-99) and the Minnesota Vikings (2000).
Paup was brought in by UNI Coach Mark Farley this spring after coaching high school football at Green Bay (Wisc.) Southwest High School – Paup said coming up short in the state playoffs left a bad taste, and wanted to move up – and brings the same reasoned, level-headed perspective to the team as a coach that he did when he was playing.
“I think he brings a stable, consistent message to the team,” Farley said. “He’s not an emotional high/low person, just like as he was as a player. He’s consistent. And you need that as a player to see that that’s the best of the best and this is his personality.
“He’s one that just wants to be good at what he does. If he can project that onto young men, I think he’s making us a better football team just because of the character element, let alone the ability to teach.”
The former Panther defensive lineman said he’s not sure if his credentials on the field alone will make a significant impact on the players.
But the time he had on an NFL field will certainly give Paup examples to show his players when teaching them.
“I don’t know (how much my playing experience will help),” Paup said. “If someone had come back (when I was a player) with the experience that I’ve had, it would’ve made me feel better about our team – get a little more pride or whatever you want to call it.
“(But) in the long run, I can’t play anymore. I can give them my experience, and they can use that, and that’s what my job is here. (To) give them the knowledge I have so they can use it and not make the same mistakes I made.”
Sharing those experiences will serve two purposes for Paup:
First, it will hopefully improve the on-field product for the Panthers’ defensive line and translate into a more effective defense.
Second, and maybe most importantly for Paup, it will give him a connection with his players and allow him to affect them as people, not just as players.
“It’s my job to train these young men up and make them leaders and accountable, help them with their character-building,” Paup said. “If you do that, the wins will come.
“I want to be a transformational coach because if they know you care for them – truly care for them – they’ll run through walls for you. I saw that in high school, and it’s no different (here).”
So, through spring and fall camp, has Paup done that effectively?
To ask Farley, it couldn’t be clearer Paup means what he says, and his players are buying in.
“He has a plan. He’s not just coming out here with a whistle and a hat on. He’s got a plan since the day he walked in the door of how he wanted to teach on the field,” Farley said. “And he’s done that, and the way he teaches is a consistent message.
“He’s probably went past what I thought he was, and I had high expectations of him. And he has excelled in all those ways.”