Craig Naivar is Kentucky's new special teams coordinator, UK announced on Thursday, filling the lone offseason opening on coach Mark Stoops' staff.
"I'm excited to be part of the Big Blue Nation and such a prestigious university," Naivar said in a news release. "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 (D.J.) Eliot. He is one of the really sharp minds in college football, a great coach and recruiter."
Naivar, who has been a defensive coordinator or special teams coordinator for the past 15 seasons, replaces Bradley Dale Peveto, who left to take the special teams coordinator spot at LSU. At Kentucky, Naivar will coach special teams and safeties.
"I've gotten to visit with Craig the last couple of years and am very impressed with him," Stoops said in a news release. "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.
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.
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.
Naivar and his wife, Michelle, have a daughter, Jordan, and a son, Gunner.