Success from the Sidelines: Kocurek '06 Attributes NFL Coaching Career to TAMUK

by Elaine Barnes

Coordinator, Alumni and Donor Communications


kris kocurek '06
Distinguished Alumni

"Coach Cundiff and Coach Buff were instrumental for me as a young coach ... I appreciate them taking the chance on me and setting the foundation of the coach I am today"


You’re on the line of scrimmage, locking eyes with your opponents, mustering up every ounce of your strength as the loud hum of fervent fans rattles your brain. You have to be laser-focused, holding perfectly still despite the adrenaline racing through every inch of your body. You have to maintain control, syncing your movement perfectly with the football – because the second it leaves the fingertips of the center, you rush forward.


It’s not an unfamiliar scene for Kris Kocurek ’06, who was just named the defensive line coach for the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers. Dedicating himself to the coveted game of football since his childhood, he was justifiably ecstatic when drafted after college into the NFL as a defensive lineman for the Seattle Seahawks. He then went on to play for the Tennessee Titans, but just as quickly as that success came, he found it at jeopardy. Enduring a persistent shoulder issue, Kocurek found himself battling to stay in the league. “I’d had multiple shoulder surgeries throughout my career,” he explained, “and the last one I had when I was playing for the Titans pretty much ended my playing career.”


For any passionate football player, this realization is crippling. But Kocurek was too passionate about the sport to just move on. Instead, he fought to find an opportunity to stay in the game and discovered how to remain entrenched in the sport. “I wanted to stay as close as I could to doing what I absolutely love, and I researched it, and the coaching avenue was the best way,” Kocurek revealed. After serving as a student assistant at his undergraduate alma mater, Texas Tech, Kocurek found himself arriving to Texas A&M University-Kingsville for what he claims was his first true and most influential coaching position in his career.


“When I arrived at A&M-Kingsville, a guy by the name of Richard Cundiff was the head coach and a guy named Haskel Buff was the defensive coordinator. In the interview, they prepared me for the different hats and responsibilities – I wasn’t just going to be coaching football all day,” Kocurek explained. He was expected to participate in helping with disciplinary action, running study hall, breaking down film, teaching classes in the kinesiology department, all while he was actively pursuing his master’s degree, taking night classes at the university. “So, it was a full day for two solid years there,” he jested. “But without that experience, I don’t know that I could’ve reached the spots in my coaching career that I have without those two years at A&M-Kingsville.”


Kocurek found himself back in the league and returning to the field, just from a different point of view – the sidelines. Hired by the Detroit Lions in 2009 as the assistant defensive line coach, Kocurek was quickly promoted shortly after to the head defensive line coach where he remained for eight more seasons, until hired by the Miami Dolphins for the 2018 season. Ultimately, all of this experience has led him to his current position today with the San Francisco 49ers, prepared and primed for the 2019-20 season.  


Although the rotation of locations he and his family are uprooted to may persist, and the teams he coaches can change, as Kocurek explained, the NFL schedule remains a reliably strict regimen, and it requires a seven-day work week for coaches. It’s the behind-the-scenes details that fans watching on Sundays can’t see and don’t quite realize. And as Kocurek teased, others might think his job is glamorous, but in reality, it requires giving more of yourself to the game than you’d ever assume.


The beginning of the week is a review of the game prior, identifying needed improvements and researching their upcoming opponent. The process presents long hours, with days typically starting as early as 6 a.m. and lasting until midnight or later. Kocurek explained, “Everything is geared toward watching our opponent, trying to look for tendencies and things we can exploit within the game plan.” Midweek offers the challenge of actual game planning and practice. “We have meetings, Powerpoint presentations and the whole gamut,” he continued, “and we go into a different part of our game plan – we go into our third down game plan, which again, lasts late into the night by the time we are totally finalized with it.”


Finally, the weekend brings a slight taste of relief. “[Friday’s] a day to rehash the entire game plan, make sure everybody’s on the same page, geared in to exactly what we’re trying to accomplish, and we have a shorter practice,” Kocurek stated. “In the NFL, Fridays are the days where coaches can get out in the afternoon and go home and be with our families for dinner.”


The rigorous schedule isn’t what Kocurek would define as the most difficult aspect of his career, though. Instead, his awareness of his role as a husband and father takes charge. “The most challenging aspect is just the time you have to commit to the game, away from your family. And your family has to understand the requirements and that we’re going to put in an extreme amount of time and hours into the job,” Kocurek divulged. “Not only do we sacrifice as coaches, but our families have to sacrifice not being able to see us often.”


Success isn’t given, it’s earned, and Kocurek firmly believes that the long days and obstacles presented to him and his family as an NFL coach are worth it if you can look back at the end of the season and say you’ve made a personal impact on the players. “To be a good coach, I think you have to be demanding but they also need to know that you really care about them, not only as a football player, but as a person. It’s just being able to be extremely demanding on them but for them to know the reason you’re asking so much of them is because you truly care about their success and what they’re trying to work toward,” he clarified.


But don’t be misled – he still intends to win, and looking forward to the upcoming season, he designates a plan to do so, stating, “I want to have one of the hardest playing, physical defensive lines in the National Football League so when you get the film on and hit play on the remote, you see a group of guys who are playing the game at an extremely, extremely hard-effort level. That’s the foundation of what I’ve always been about: effort and physicality. Those are the two things in the NFL I want us to be the best at.” And at the peak of his career, Kocurek admits he continues to draw upon what he learned in Kingsville. “Coach Cundiff and Coach Buff were instrumental for me as a young coach. You know, it wasn’t always easy days, and they were demanding on me, but I appreciate them taking the chance on me and setting the foundation of the coach I am today.”



  San Francisco, CA
  Master's in Kinesiology
  Coaching - Football