LINCOLN — Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini has never lacked for trust in John Papuchis.
As defensive coordinator at Louisiana State, Pelini didn't hesitate to ask more of Papuchis than the average GA or intern.
Upon taking the head coaching job at Nebraska, Pelini gave Papuchis his first full-time assistant position at age 29.
And Thursday, Pelini announced that Papuchis, 33, would be the replacement for Carl Pelini as the Huskers' defensive coordinator.
“I appreciate the faith that he has in me,” Papuchis told The World-Herald. “From the day I started working for him as a graduate assistant, he always gave me a lot of responsibility — and I've always tried to do what he's asked me to do to the best of my ability. And this is no different.”
In addition to promoting Papuchis to defensive coordinator, Bo Pelini also said in a release that NU has hired Rick Kaczenski to be the Huskers' defensive line coach. Kaczenski comes to Nebraska after seven seasons at Iowa, including the past five in a full-time role as the Hawkeyes' defensive line coach.
After returning to Iowa City for a few days, Kaczenski, 36, will join the Husker staff next week as it begins preparations for the Jan. 2 Capital One Bowl in Orlando.
“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.”
Pelini and Papuchis have now been together for seven years, including the past four at Nebraska.
Papuchis also currently serves as the Huskers' recruiting coordinator and special teams coordinator. Pelini is not expected to comment on how those duties might shift until next week, but Papuchis said during a Sports Nightly interview that there would be change.
Papuchis is a Virginia Tech graduate from Gaithersburg, Md. He started his coaching career as a GA under Mark Mangino at Kansas before going to LSU.
The defensive coordinator position came open Dec. 5, when Carl Pelini officially was announced as head coach at Florida Atlantic. Papuchis said he and Bo Pelini talked briefly afterward, but Papuchis said he understood that Pelini had to “make sure he took care of things the way that he wanted to handle them.”
Pelini sent his team on Christmas break after Tuesday's practice, and the Blackshirts will return Christmas Day with Papuchis officially at the defensive helm.
Depending on hires made by Iowa and Illinois, he is in line to be the youngest defensive coordinator in the Big Ten next season.
“I just think it's a tremendous honor and I'm extremely excited to get this thing started,” Papuchis said. “I've been with Coach Pelini for a long time and been blessed to be with him, and I feel like I've worked hard and that I've been prepared well for this opportunity. I look forward to making the most of it.”
In addition to Bo and Carl Pelini, Papuchis said his career also has been shaped by working with Nick Saban, Will Muschamp and Kirby Smart at LSU, as well as Bill Young at Kansas.
“A lot of the successful coaches that you see out there have had tremendous mentors,” Papuchis said on Sports Nightly. “And I've been very fortunate in my career to have some great mentors.”
Pelini called Kaczenski a great addition and a good fit for the Husker defensive staff, which also includes first-year assistants Ross Els (linebackers) and Corey Raymond (secondary).
“I have great respect for the program at the University of Iowa and their defenses have annually been among the best in the nation,” Pelini said. “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.”
Kaczenski is a former Notre Dame offensive lineman out of Erie, Pa. He was a three-year starter at center for the Fighting Irish from 1995 through '97.
Kaczenski started out as a graduate assistant at South Carolina under Lou Holtz from 1999 through 2001, then made stops at South Carolina State, East Tennessee State and Elon before going to Iowa.
Seven of Kaczenski's defensive linemen at Iowa have been NFL draft picks or free-agent signees over the past four years. Former Hawkeyes defensive end Adrian Clayborn was a consensus All-American in 2010 and the No. 20 pick overall in the 2011 draft. Defensive tackle Mitch King in 2008 was the Big Ten defensive lineman of the year.
Iowa ranked No. 6 nationally in rushing defense in 2010 (101.5 yards per game) and No. 9 in 2008 (94.0).
Kaczenski said about his only previous connection to NU is James Dobson, the Huskers' strength and conditioning coach who was at Iowa before Pelini hired him in 2008. But he said it was not unusual for Hawkeye staff to keep an eye on things Nebraska was doing in recent seasons.
“Nebraska's always been a school that we've studied defensively at Iowa, even before they joined the Big Ten,” Kaczenski said on Sports Nightly.
“Fundamentally and technically, they play so sound in what they do. They do things so well year in and year out. Teams will show up on the radar every once in a while, (but) Coach Pelini's defenses are always up there.”
Kaczenski said he isn't quite sure what his immediate role will be with the Huskers.
“All I'm trying to do is just kind of observe, try to get a feel for the land and not step on anybody's toes,” he said. “I'll just probably be a casual observer until Coach tells me what he needs from me or what he wants me to do.”
Papuchis said he spent time with Kaczenski over the past few days and walked away impressed.
“I think we're extremely fortunate to get Rick in here,” Papuchis said. “He's an intense, good teacher, hard worker who has a lot of passion.”
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