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UNIBusiness grad Ryan Mahaffey uses economics education in his coaching profession

November 27, 2019 - 8:00am
UNIBusiness Editor
Headshot of Ryan Mahaffey

Ryan Mahaffey (Economics ’11, Grinnell, Iowa) sees a lot of parallels between coaching and economics. Both require logical, analytical thoughts. Both require the important skill of articulating those thoughts in a concise and cohesive manner. Both demand a high level of precision. 

“Those are things that continue to apply each and every single day as a coach,” said Mahaffey, now the offensive coordinator for UNI’s football team.  

At one point, after his football playing days seemed over, Mahaffey had goals to take his economics education at UNIBusiness and attend law school. But then football beckoned him back — just like how it enticed him to play in the first place. 

Mahaffey grew up in Grinnell, Iowa, and didn’t play football until seventh grade. He played basketball up until that point, but his aggressive style of play translated better to football.  

After a successful high school career, Mahaffey was recruited to play at the University of Northern Iowa under coach Mark Farley. A tight end and fullback, Mahaffey eventually went on to enjoy stints with the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens, Indianapolis Colts and Miami Dolphins. 

After he was cut from the Dolphins in 2012, Mahaffey was back in Cedar Falls continuing to stay in shape while studying for the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). Farley spotted him and asked if he’d help out with the team’s tight ends in a part-time role. 

“I didn’t know if I was going to get another opportunity [in football] or not,” Mahaffey said. “I had reservations because at that time, because I had my mind made up that I was going to go to law school and see what avenues that presented me.” 

Mahaffey eventually joined the staff and became the full-time tight ends coach in 2013. That led to roles with Notre Dame and Western Kentucky before coming back to UNI as offensive coordinator in 2019. 

Mahaffey said the rigorous economics curriculum at UNIBusiness was important in his growth. He had always been interested in economics — with hopes of eventually becoming a lawyer — and UNIBusiness was a great fit. One of his highlights was presenting an economics research paper in Philadelphia looking into the correlation between college athletics success and alumni giving. 

As for now, Mahaffey is enjoying his career in coaching — “I’m a lifer,” he said with a laugh. He has considered attending law school, but only if it were to contribute to one of his goals of working in children’s advocacy or civil rights.

“I get to work with young people each and every day in a collegiate environment while hopefully impacting people’s lives in a positive direction,” Mahaffey said. “So I get a lot of the fulfillment in my current role and at the same time I get to be around football each and every single day. I count myself as a pretty lucky person.” 



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UNIBusiness Editor

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