LEXINGTON, Ky. – Craig Naivar, who has been a defensive coordinator or special teams coordinator for the last 15 seasons, has joined the Kentucky football staff as special teams coordinator and safeties coach, Head Coach Mark Stoops announced Thursday.
“I’ve gotten to visit with Craig the last couple of years and am very impressed with him,” Stoops said. “He has vast knowledge, both as a defensive coordinator and as a special teams coordinator. He’s a high-energy coach with a great reputation as a recruiter.”
Naivar (pronounced “NI-ver”) comes to Kentucky from Texas State, where he was the defensive coordinator and safeties coach the last three seasons, helping the Bobcats transition from independent status (2011) to the Western Athletic Conference in 2012 to the Sun Belt Conference in 2013. Formerly a member of the Football Championship Subdivision, the Bobcats were bowl eligible in 2013, becoming the second-fastest team in history to become bowl eligible after moving up from the FCS to the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Naivar helped produce defensive lineman Michael Ebbitt, the 2011 Independent Defensive Player of the Year, along with two All-Independent Team selections. He had two second-team All-WAC honorees in 2012 and a second-team All-Sun Belt pick last season. Two of his Texas State players are now in the National Football League, linebacker Joplo Bartu with Atlanta and defensive back Darryl Morris with San Francisco.
Naivar also coached at Texas State from 2004-06, where he was defensive coordinator and safeties coach. That term was highlighted by the 2005 season, when the Bobcats posted an 11-3 record and advanced to the semifinals of the NCAA FCS (then-Division I-AA) playoffs. The Bobcats ranked in the nation’s top 25 in scoring defense and total defense while generating 33 turnovers.
It was at Texas State where Naivar first became associated with current UK defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot, who also was on the Bobcat staff. The duo moved on to Rice in 2007, where Naivar was co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach from 2007-09. Their best season came in 2008 when Rice went 10-3, the Owls’ best record since the 1950s, capped by a share of the Conference USA Western Division championship and a 38-14 rout of Western Michigan in the Texas Bowl.
Individually, Naivar coached safety Andrew Sendejo, currently with the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings, and safety Travis Bradshaw, who led the nation in solo tackles in 2009.
Naivar moved to special teams coordinator and defensive line coach in 2010, helping guide Rice to some impressive accomplishments. Led by All-America punter Kyle Martens, the Owls were sixth in the nation in net punting. Rice ranked 26th in the nation in punt returns and had the nation’s 10th-best kickoff returner, Charles Ross, who averaged 29 yards per runback.
Born in Austin, Texas, Naivar was a four-year letterman, playing safety and quarterback, and was team captain at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Hardin-Simmons and began his coaching career there, helping lead the Cowboys to the NAIA Division II Playoffs in 1994 and ’95.
Naivar was a graduate assistant at New Mexico and TCU before landing at Southern Illinois as special teams coordinator and defensive line coach. From there he coached at Sam Houston State, serving at various times as defensive coordinator, special teams coordinator, safeties coach and defensive line coach. The top campaign there was 2001, when the Bearkats went 10-3, were co-champions of the Southland Conference and advanced to the quarterfinals of the Division I-AA playoffs before losing to eventual national champion Montana. Naivar left Sam Houston State for his first stint at Texas State in 2004.
“I’m excited to be part of the Big Blue Nation and such a prestigious university,” Naivar said of his decision to come to Kentucky. “I was attracted by the opportunity to work with Coach Stoops, the energy he brings and the success he’s had everywhere he’s been.
“It’s also exciting to reunite with Coach Eliot. He is one of the really sharp minds in college football, a great coach and recruiter.”
Naivar and his wife, Michelle, have a daughter, Jordan, and a son, Gunner.
Naivar Coaching File
Years School Position
1994-95 Hardin-Simmons Special Teams Coordinator
1996-97 New Mexico Graduate Assistant
1998 (spring) TCU Graduate Assistant
1998-99 Southern Illinois Special Teams Coordinator, Defensive Line
2000-01 Sam Houston State Special Teams Coordinator, Defensive Line
2002-03 Sam Houston State Defensive Coordinator, Safeties
2004-06 Texas State Defensive Coordinator, Safeties
2007-09 Rice Co-Defensive Coordinator, Safeties
2010 Rice Special Teams Coordinator, Defensive Line
2011-13 Texas State Defensive Coordinator, Safeties
2014-present Kentucky Special Teams Coordinator, Safeties