Craig Kuligowski is in his 24th season alongside Gary Pinkel, including his 20th season coaching the defensive line. One of the more accomplished assistant coaches in the nation, Kuligowski has coached nine Tigers to 1st-Team All-Conference honors, including eight overall in the last eight seasons – Lorenzo Williams in 2007, followed by Ziggy Hood in 2008, Aldon Smith in 2010, Dominique Hamilton in 2011, Sheldon Richardson in 2012, Michael Sam and Kony Ealy in 2013, and Shane Ray in 2014.
Despite being a first-year starter, Ray, a junior defensive end, was one of the breakout stars of the SEC in 2014, as he was the unanimous SEC Defensive Player of the Year and a 1st-Team All-American after setting a school-record with 14.5 sacks, while adding 22.5 tackles for loss. He teamed with senior DE Markus Golden (20.0 TFLs, 10.0 sacks – 2nd-team All-SEC) to provide arguably the top end tandem in the country, while the middle of the line was quite stout too, as evidenced by sophomore DT Harold Brantley earning honorable mention all-SEC acclaim by the Associated Press.
Mizzou led the SEC in sacks (a school-record 44), and was the stingiest defense in the league, allowing a conference-low 300.8 yards per game in league games.
Sam was one of the more compelling stories of the 2013 season, as he rose from little pre-season fanfare to become one of the top rush ends in the nation. He led the SEC in both sacks (11.5) and tackles for loss (19.0) and became MU’s first defensive 1st-Team All-American since former great Justin Smith in 2001. Sam was a finalist for the Nagurski, Lombardi and Hendricks awards.
Ealy also turned in an outstanding season which culminated with him winning 1st-Team All-SEC acclaim by the Associated Press.
Kuligowski’s defensive line was arguably the most disruptive and deepest in the nation in 2013, as it was responsible for 39 of Mizzou’s 41 season sacks (which led the SEC and ranked 12th nationally), while notching 73.5 of the team’s 107 tackles for loss.
Reserve junior DE Markus Golden won honorable-mention All-SEC honors from the Associated Press for his play, while sophomore DE Shane Ray and junior DTs Matt Hoch and Lucas Vincent, combined with freshmen tackles Harold Brantley and Josh Augusta to give Mizzou high-impact capabilities every snap.
Sheldon Richardson developed into one of the top defensive tackles in the nation in 2012, and claimed 1st-Team All-SEC honors for his play, which included leading all SEC linemen in tackles (75). Richardson went on to become the 13th overall selection in the 2013 NFL Draft by the New York Jets, and he’s a leading candidate for AFC Rookie of the Year thus far.
Hamilton was an anchor on the line for Mizzou in 2011, as he led all Big 12 interior linemen with his 56 tackles, and he also helped clinch a pair of dramatic wins at Texas A&M and against Texas Tech when he deflected passes to end each game.
The 2010 season saw Smith earn 1st-Team All-Big 12 honors despite missing three games with a broken leg early in the year. Following his sophomore season, Smith chose to bypass his final two years of eligibility and was a first-round draft pick in the 2011 NFL Draft by the San Francisco 49ers, where he blossomed into one the league’s top defensive rookies in 2011. Smith amassed 19.5 sacks in 2012, and earned All-Pro acclaim while helping lead the 49ers to the Super Bowl.
Smith wasn’t the only Kuligowski protégé to earn acclaim in 2010, as five linemen in all took home honors, including sophomore end Brad Madison (2nd-Team), junior end Jacquies Smith (Hon. Men.), and junior tackle Terrell Resonno (Hon. Men.).
Coach “Kool” debuted a star pupil in 2009 – redshirt freshman end Aldon Smith – who turned out to be one of the top freshmen in the entire nation. Smith was named the Big 12 Conference Defensive Freshman/Newcomer of the Year, in unanimous fashion, and he also earned 3rd-Team All-American honors, as well as 1st-Team Freshman All-American honors for his outstanding play in 2009.
Smith broke the MU single-season quarterback sacks record in 2009, with 11.5 to surpass the old mark of 11 set in 2000 by former All-American Justin Smith. Aldon Smith also had 19 tackles for loss in his first year on the field for Mizzou, and he led all of the nation’s freshmen in both sacks and tackles for loss a year ago. Smith was joined by senior Jaron Baston (2nd-Team All-Big 12) in receiving all-conference honors in 2009.
Kuligowski’s defensive line was stout against the run in 2009, as it helped the Tiger defense to a national ranking of 26th against the run (allowing 118.62 yards per game). The ranking and yards allowed were the lowest by any Mizzou defense against the run since the 1983 team ranked 5th in the country with an average of 97.70 yards per game.
Hood, and another star disciple, defensive end Stryker Sulak (who earned 2nd-Team All-Big 12 mention in both 2007 and 2008) were invited to participate in the 2009 NFL Combine, and both were eventually taken in the 2009 NFL Draft, with Hood going in the first round with the 32nd overall pick by the defending Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers, with Sulak going in the 6th round to the Oakland Raiders. Sulak ended his career tied for second on Mizzou’s quarterback sacks list, with 22.5, while Hood finished 10th with 15.5 for his career.
In 2007, Kuligowski coached all four of his starters on the Tiger defensive line to at least honorable mention All-Big 12 honors, including Lorenzo Williams, who claimed 1st-Team mention for his outstanding play.
The 2006 season also saw Kuligowski’s pupils succeed at a high level, as he coached standout defensive ends Brian Smith, Xzavie Jackson and tackle Lorenzo Williams to All-Big 12 honors, with Smith earning 2nd-Team mention, while Jackson and Williams won their first-ever honorable mention acclaim.
Despite being hurt severely by injuries in 2006, the Tiger defensive line was a disruptive force early and often, as they amassed 28 combined sacks of MU’s overall 36 sacks on the season which were the second-most in school history (41 sacks in 1982 is the MU record). Smith was a catalyst, as he broke MU’s career sack record before breaking his hip in game eight against Kansas State. Jackson and Williams stepped up in Smith’s absence, and rank on MU’s alltime career top-10 in sacks.
Facing arguably the biggest rebuilding job at any position on the team in 2005, Kuligowski oversaw a defensive line that grew into a solid unit, despite losing three starters from 2004 to the NFL. Junior defensive end Brian Smith blossomed into an every-down player, and had a monster year, ranking among the best in the Big 12 Conference with 9 QB sacks, 17 tackles for loss and 12 QB hurries, to go along with his career-high total of 66 tackles. Smith earned 2nd-Team All-Big 12 accolades for his performance.
Kuligowski’s line was a focal point for the Tiger defense in 2004, and a major reason for the overall improvement of the defense. Three of his pupils – tackles Atiyyah Ellison and C.J. Mosley, and end Brian Smith – earned various All-Big 12 honors for their play in 2004, with Ellison and Mosley pulling in 1st-Team distinction. Redshirt freshman Lorenzo Williams also earned 1st-Team Freshman All-Big 12 honors by The Sporting News.
Two of Kuligowski’s protégés were drafted as part of the 2005 NFL Draft, as tackles Atiyyah Ellison (3rd round) and C.J. Mosley (6th round) were picked by the Carolina Panthers and Minnesota Vikings, respectively. Later, defensive end Zach Ville signed a free agent deal with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Under Kuligowski’s leadership, the Tiger defensive line proved to be the strength of MU’s defense in 2002. Led by senior tackle Keith Wright and senior end Antwaun Bynum, the Tiger front four was a constant disruptive force for opposing teams. Wright led the Big 12 Conference, and ranked in the top-10 nationally, with 23 tackles for loss in 2002, while Bynum ranked among conference leaders in sacks, fumbles forced and tackles for loss.
Bynum earned first team All-Big 12 honors in 2002, and was named an honorable mention All-American by CNNSI.com, while Wright was a first team All-Big 12 pick by various outlets. Wright’s development led to him being a 6th-round selection by the Houston Texans in the 2003 NFL Draft.
Kuligowski was credited with building one of the top defensive lines in the MAC during his tenure at Toledo. In 2000, the Rockets were ranked fifth in the country in rushing defense, allowing just 81.5 yards per game and 2.46 yards per carry. They were ranked third in the country in scoring defense, third in total defense and No. 1 in turnover margin.
Kuligowski was a four-year standout at Toledo (1987-90) as an offensive tackle. He was named first team All-MAC two straight years and helped lead UT to the MAC title his senior year. He was an integral part of the 1990 offense that turned in totals of 135 rushing first downs, 2,474 rushing yards and 4,335 total yards, all top five marks in Toledo history.
Kuligowski earned a bachelor of business administration degree from Toledo in 1991. He and his wife Mary have two daughters: Peyton and Madeline, and son Max, who was born in March of 2005.