SIOUX CITY – The University of Northern Iowa Panther Caravan pulls into the Sioux City Convention Center on Monday, May 14.
At that time, fans will have an opportunity to interact with UNI players, coaches and athletic director David Harris.
Harris, in his second year as AD, was in town Thursday to not only promote the upcoming caravan, but also shed some light on other matters concerning Northern Iowa athletics.
“This (Panther Caravan) will be an opportunity to bring UNI to the community for a day and from our standpoint, it’s an opportunity to say thank you to people who support us throughout the year,” Harris said. “It’s a chance for us to be able to in some ways return the favor for people who come to our campus throughout the year. A chance to bring our coaches, myself, the president, our mascots, alumni association and a lot of different aspects of UNI to your community to have a family friendly, fun event where we talk about the university and athletics.”
The Panther Caravan did not make a stop in Siouxland last year, so Harris said that was a top priority in its second year.
“This is a way to go into the community to have some outreach and not just have it be about everyone coming to the Cedar Valley time and time again,” Harris said. “We should have opportunities where we get out and try to make connections with people throughout the state.”
By all accounts, UNI athletics are humming along at a high level, but the nature of an athletic director is to make things operate even better.
Harris recently unveiled a rough draft of a five-year strategic plan to improve on an already strong program while at the same time upping the ante for athletes as well as fans and the Cedar Falls community.
“In a nutshell what we want to do is to be able to set the future for UNI athletics and ultimately a number of people who have contributed and continue to contribute and to make sure we can have the right initiatives and metrics,” Harris said. “We try to be as comprehensive as we possibly can by looking at academic success, competitive success, community engagement, facilities and finances of the department to make sure we can cover all our bases from top to bottom. Then, setting out goals and metrics that we want to measure ourselves by.
“So it’s really an attempt to be ambitious but also transparent. We may have had a strategic plan in the past, but nobody that I have talked to has indicated that we have, so we think this may be the first strategic plan that UNI athletics has had so it’s important for us to make sure we’ve gotten a lot of input.”
Harris and his staff will welcome feedback from the public and they hope to have a final version of the plan in place sometime this summer.
“We’re fortunate that we have had success in a number of different areas, but for all of us it’s about what we do next,” Harris said. “It’s about trying to make sure our coaches and student-athletes continue to have success in an environment that is becoming increasingly competitive.”
UNI just rewarded wrestling coach Doug Schwab with a three-year contract extension. The football, basketball and volleyball programs are consistently among the best in their respective conferences.
“It’s one of the benefits you have when you have coaches who have been with your department for a long time and had sustained success,” Harris said. “If you talk about men’s basketball (Ben Jacobson), football (Mark Farley), women’s basketball (Tanya Warren), you’re talking about the winningest coaches in the history of our program. Even in volleyball you have the second-winningest coach (Bobbi Petersen) and if she continues to coach long enough, she’ll end up being first.”