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Miami's staff overhaul brings reason for optimism

While at Missouri, Craig Kuligowski proved he could develop stars out of defensive linemen who did not have the accolades coming out of high school that the players at Miami have. Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Al Golden lost his job as Miami coach for a variety of reasons. Chief among them was an inability to put together an elite staff of assistant coaches.

It is nearly impossible to survive without one. Skyrocketing salaries for coordinators and high-level assistants underscore as much. So when Miami fired Golden, there was no choice but to shift priorities. Not only did the administration have to pay for a high-level head coach. Upgrading the assistant coaching staff had to be done.

To that end, new coach Mark Richt has brought in a staff that has drawn good reviews nationally. On paper, at least, the staff appears to be a major upgrade.

Rather than start with the coordinators, though, one coach in particular has an opportunity to make an immediate impact in 2016. That would be defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski, who worked wonders at Missouri with under-the-radar talent. Former Miami defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio could never quite get his defensive line to perform up to its potential. It has been years since Miami physically dominated opponents in the trenches.

Since Golden was hired, only five defensive players have been drafted. None in the first round. For a program with a rich history on that side of the ball, that is unacceptable.

But there should be reason for optimism.

Miami has a wealth of talent among its defensive linemen. The Hurricanes return eight players rated as four-star prospects out of high school. Six of them were ranked in the ESPN300. That includes Florida transfer Gerald Willis, who drew raves on the scout team this past season and will be eligible to play in 2016. Now consider what Kuligowski did at Missouri. In 15 years with the Tigers, he developed 24 all-conference players. He's had four players drafted in the first round since 2009. That includes a first-rounder and second-rounder last year.

Do you know how many of those players were rated four star or higher out of high school? Just one: Sheldon Richardson.

Do you know the last time Miami had a defensive lineman drafted in the first round? Vince Wilfork, 2004.

Kuligowski has proven results with players who were not necessarily the biggest, fastest or strongest out of high school. Since 2009, Missouri has signed four defensive linemen rated four- or five-star prospects. Yet the Tigers ranked No. 2 in tackles for loss in 2015 with 106. Miami, on the other hand, had 66. In 2014, Missouri set a school record with 44 sacks. The last time Miami had that many? In 2002, when the Canes had 47.

Manny Diaz takes over from D'Onofrio as defensive coordinator. Though the results have been mixed in his career, his is an aggressive, attacking style defense and that is exactly what Miami needs. Yes, his units at Texas struggled. But just this past season, his Mississippi State defense ranked in the Top 10 in red zone defense (Miami ranked No. 110) and held opponents to 23.2 points per game. The last time Miami held a scoring average that low was in 2011, Year 1 under Golden.

Richt made several other smart moves, bringing in former Miami standout Mike Rumph to coach the defensive backs; Ron Dugans to coach the receivers and Thomas Brown to handle offensive coordinator duties and the running backs. Rumph has deep ties to the South Florida community and knows better than anybody in the program what it takes to win a national championship at Miami. Dugans played under Richt at Florida State and has deep ties to the state as well. He also coached DeVante Parker at Louisville, who went on to become a first-round pick. Over the last two seasons, Brown has coached Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and Melvin Gordon.

Much more is known about the offense, with eight starters back -- including quarterback Brad Kaaya. But there is talent and potential on defense. If the new staff can develop them the right way, Miami has a shot to be a contender in the Coastal.