Nebraska Head Coach Bo Pelini announced on Thursday that he has promoted John Papuchis to defensive coordinator and hired Rick Kaczenski as the Huskers’ defensive line coach.
Papuchis has been on Pelini’s Nebraska staff for the past four years, serving in multiple roles, including coaching the Husker defensive line which has been among the nation’s best during his tenure. Kaczenski joins Pelini’s staff after spending the past five seasons as the defensive line coach at Iowa, where the Hawkeyes fielded some of the nation’s top defenses during Kaczenski’s time on staff. Kaczenski is expected to join the Nebraska coaching staff for its trip to the Capital One Bowl.
The re-shuffling of the defensive coaching staff comes after four-year defensive coordinator Carl Pelini was named head coach at Florida Atlantic earlier this month.
“I’m pleased with how the defensive staff has taken shape,” Pelini said. “John Papuchis is an outstanding coach in every area—on the field, in the meeting room, as a recruiter—and he is more than prepared to take the next step in his coaching career. He has worked alongside me for seven years, going back to our time together at LSU, and I have complete confidence in his coaching abilities.
“Rick Kaczenski is a great addition to our coaching staff, and fits our football program perfectly. I have great respect for the program at the University of Iowa and their defenses have annually been among the best in the nation. Rick’s track record of developing defensive linemen speaks for itself. When I’ve watched Iowa’s defense and in particular the defensive line, I see players that have great technique and fundamentals, who also play with a high level of intensity.”
The 33-year-old Papuchis moves into his new role after serving as defensive line coach, special teams coordinator and recruiting coordinator for the 2011 season. This fall, the Husker defensive line persevered through numerous injuries throughout the season, led by honorable-mention All-Big Ten defenders Cameron Meredith and Baker Steinkuhler.
In 2009 and 2010, Nebraska field one of the nation’s top defenses, led by a dominant defensive line. Ndamukong Suh became one of the most decorated defensive players in college football history in 2009, helping Nebraska lead the nation in scoring defense. In 2010, Jared Crick earned all-conference honors for the second straight season to help Nebraska again rank among the nation’s top defensive units.
Nebraska has also owned one of the nation’s top special teams units under Papuchis’ direction the past four seasons. After Alex Henery become the most accurate kicker in NCAA history, Papuchis has helped develop another outstanding kicker in Brett Maher, who became the first player since 2001 to earn first-team All-Big Ten honors as both place-kicker and punter in the same season. Papuchis was one of four finalist for the FootballScoop.com Special Teams Coordinator of the Year Award in 2010, and his special teams units have ranked in the top 20 of Phil Steele’s composite special teams rankings each of the past three seasons.
Kaczenski, 36, joins the defensive staff after building an impressive resume on Kirk Ferentz’s staff at Iowa. The play of Kaczenski’s defensive lines played a key role in Iowa’s success the past five seasons. With Kaczenski as a member of the full-time coaching staff from 2007 to 2011, Iowa has reached a bowl game each of the past four years, including an appearance in the Orange Bowl following the 2009 season.
In 2010, Iowa ranked sixth nationally in rushing defense (101.5 ypg) and seventh in scoring defense (17.0 ppg). A year earlier, the Hawkeye defense ranked in the top 10 nationally in four defensive statistical categories, including pass efficiency defense, total defense, scoring defense and passing yards allowed. The play of the front line played a big part in the defensive success as Iowa posted an 11-2 overall record and a victory over Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl.
The 2008 Iowa defense also ranked highly across the board. Kaczenski’s defensive front keyed a group that limited opponents to just 94.0 rushing yards per game to rank ninth in the country. Iowa also ranked fifth in scoring defense, fifth in pass efficiency defense and 12th in scoring defense en route to a 9-4 record and Outback Bowl berth in 2008. In his first season as a full-time assistant in 2007, Iowa ranked third in the Big Ten and 13th nationally in scoring defense, while also leading the conference in turnover margin.
Under Kaczenski, Iowa has produced outstanding individual performers on the defensive line. End Adrian Clayborn became the 21st player at Iowa to earn consensus All-America honors in 2010. He was named as the national Defensive Performer of the Year by College Football Performance Awards in 2009. Clayborn was named first team all-Big Ten in both 2009 and 2010.
Clayborn was the 20th pick in the first round by Tampa Bay in the 2011 NFL Draft, and was one of three Hawkeye defensive linemen selected in last year’s draft. Defensive lineman Christian Ballard was taken in the fourth round by Minnesota, while Tennessee selected defensive lineman Karl Klug in the fifth round.
Defensive tackles Mitch King and Matt Kroul led Iowa’s defense in 2008. King was named Defensive Lineman of the Year in the Big Ten while earning first-, second- and third-team All-America honors. Kroul earned second team all-Big Ten honors after setting an Iowa record with 50 consecutive starts. Both King (Tennessee) and Kroul (N.Y. Jets) signed free agent contracts immediately following the 2009 NFL draft and have remained in the NFL the last two seasons. In 2007, King was named first team all-Big Ten and senior defensive end Bryan Mattison earned second-team recognition.
Overall, seven of Kaczenski’s defensive linemen have been drafted or signed an NFL free agent contract over the past four seasons.
Before taking over as defensive line coach, Kaczenski served two seasons as a graduate assistant at Iowa in 2005-06, working specifically with the offensive line. Kaczenski joined the Iowa staff after serving as the offensive line and tight ends coach at Elon University in 2004. He served in the same capacity at East Tennessee State in 2003 and was the offensive line coach at South Carolina State in 2002.
Kaczenski was on the staff at South Carolina from 1999 to 2001 under Head Coach Lou Holtz. He was a graduate assistant with the Gamecocks, working in recruiting, while assisting with the offensive line and wide receivers. Kaczenski began his coaching career in 1998 as an assistant coach at Erie (Pa.) Cathedral Prep, his high school alma mater.
Kaczenski played collegiately at Notre Dame from 1994 to 1997, where he was a three-year starter at center from 1995 to 1997. While with the Irish, Kaczenski helped Notre Dame to four bowl appearances, including a trip to the 1995 Fiesta Bowl and the 1996 Orange Bowl. Kaczenski played in a total of 40 games, and during his career Notre Dame finished in the top 20 in rushing three times, including sixth in 1995 and eighth in 1996.
Kaczenski is a 1997 Notre Dame graduate in sociology and is a native of Erie, Pa.