Reports surfaced late Saturday night Kentucky had found its new safeties and special teams coordinator in Craig Naivar. As of Sunday morning Kentucky Athletics had yet to confirm the hire, although Naivar's head coach at Texas State has all but said he's gone and Texas State is now looking to fill his replacement. Jennifer Smith has reported Naivar had previously worked with current Kentucky defensive coordinator D.J. Elliot for five seasons at Rice University and Texas State. You can read more on Naivar's biography here. You can also follow him on Twitter here.
The hiring feels a bit underwhelming. I was hoping for a coach who had more than five seasons of being a successful special teams coordinator at the highest levels similar to Bradley Dale Peveto. That sensitivity comes from my lingering issues of Joker firing Steve Ortmayer after multiple seasons of Kentucky special teams success in favor of Greg Nord who was an unproven special teams coordinator. Naivar does have experience coaching special teams, and his Rice unit was ranked 42nd in special teams in 2010 (by comparison this year's UK special teams were ranked 86th).
There are other positives worth mentioning. First, Mark Stoops has built up enough goodwill with personnel decisions he's made that it's worth trusting him on this hire. Two, Naivar brings with him a history of being a successful defensive coordinator. He should at least be a solid safeties coach and his defensive mind will be valuable during game preparation and from the sidelines on game day. Third, he's also 42 years-old which continues the trend of having a young staff that can relate more easily to recruits and current players. Finally, Naivar will inherit some weapons as UK returns both starting safeties, their back-ups, the starting punter, and most of the special teams units.
It will be interesting to see how Naivar's hiring effects recruiting. Presumably he will focus on Texas since he spent the last ten years coaching in the state. Originally, the assumption was Stoops would try to hire someone with ties to Georgia or the mid-Atlantic, but that wouldn't fit Naivar's profile (and could also indicate Naivar wasn't the first choice). Previously, coaches Neal Brown and Tommy Mainord focused on Texas given their past there, but Naivar looks to takeover that account especially given Mainord's increased focus on the mid-Atlantic and Brown's need to focus on Kentucky given the preponderance of in-state talent in the 2015 and 2016 classes. Presumably, Derrick Ainsley's focus will now be both Georgia and Alabama.
If Naivar is able to get the mid-shelf prospects in Texas away from Big 12, B1G, and PAC 12 competition that should be considered a success. Just like in Ohio, Georgia, Florida, or Alabama, Kentucky should not be expected to beat out the prestigious in-state schools for the best recruits. Naivar's ties to Texas high schools may help him identify under-the-radar talent early, and help him to forge relationships. In the last two classes UK has signed three players from the state of Texas, and missed out on several others. Texas may have been on the recruiting periphery before this hire, but should take on an increasing importance going forward. After all, in terms of raw numbers, Texas produces more FBS signees than any other state.
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Texas State Media Day 2012: Coach Naivar (via Dan S)