Nebraska fans hoping to see a big name come in to oversee the defense will instead have to hope that Bo Pelini has a sharp eye for talent on his own staff.
Pelini announced Thursday that he would promote defensive line coach John Papuchis to defensive coordinator. He also made official the hiring of former Iowa defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski to fill that same role for the Huskers.
Papuchis is only 33 and in just his fourth season as a full-time assistant but has already held several positions for Nebraska. He was the defensive line coach, special teams coordinator and recruiting coordinator for the 2011 season. The defensive line was hurt by injuries this year, but Papuchis worked with Ndamukong Suh and Jared Crick while fielding some dominant lines in recent seasons. The Cornhuskers have also excelled on special teams under his watch, with stars like kickers Alex Henery and Brett Maher.
“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 said in a statement. "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."
There was some talk of former Arizona coach Mike Stoops coming to Lincoln to re-unite with old friend Pelini. But Pelini instead looked to promote from within after his brother, Carl, left for the head coaching job at Florida Atlantic. Pelini also promoted Tim Beck to offensive coordinator from within before this season.
The Kaczenski hire also is interesting. He guided some very good defensive lines at Iowa and helped produce three NFL draft picks last season. Nebraska poached him from its division rival without a promotion in title. That's something you don't see often between conference programs of similar stature, and it could add a little spice to the Heroes Game rivalry.
Like Papuchis, Kaczenski is a young up-and-comer at only 36. He will join Nebraska in time for its Jan. 2 Capital One Bowl game against South Carolina.
“Rick Kaczenski is a great addition to our coaching staff, and fits our football program perfectly," Pelini said. "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.”
Pelini also announced Thursday that starting center Mike Caputo would play in the bowl game after having his suspicion of DUI charge reduced to reckless driving. Caputo will face internal team disciplinary measures, Pelini said. The Huskers certainly need the senior while facing South Carolina's defense.