Fleming Names Mark Criner as Linebackers Coach

Fleming Names Mark Criner as Linebackers Coach

KINGSTON, R.I. – Rhode Island football head coach Jim Fleming announced the addition of Mark Criner to his staff Tuesday. Criner – who played for Fleming at Boise State – will be the Rams' linebacker coach.

A coaching veteran with 25 years of experience, including 20 years at the FBS level, Criner comes to Rhode Island from Lamar University. He spent two seasons working with the Cardinals linebackers. At Lamar, his defense ranked sixth in nation in fumble recoveries, second in the Southland Conference in passing defense and third in the league in total defense, red zone defense, sacks and third-down defense. In 2014, he helped the Cardinals reach eight wins in a season for the first time since 1974.

"What made Mark the best fit was the opportunity to bring in a coach with a wealth of experience coaching linebackers, defensive backs and working as a defensive coordinator," Fleming said. "Mark has extensive experience recruiting both in the junior college ranks as well as on the national level. This was an opportunity to bring in a coach who can develop our young, talented group of linebackers. When we looked at all of these factors, Mark was clearly the best choice for our program."

Criner's blood lines are steeped in football tradition. His father, Jim Criner, won a Division I-AA national title at Boise State in 1980 and an NFL Europe World Bowl title with the Scottish Claymores in 1996. His uncle Herb was a longtime coach in Idaho at both the high school and college level. His cousin, Scott, is a high school coach in Idaho and Mark's son, Calin, will be a safety at Eastern Washington in the fall.

"Mark Criner comes from a football family, through and through," Fleming said. "He has spent many years at the college level coaching and will have an immediate impact on our program."

Criner has coached in the Southland, Mid-American, Western Athletics, Big Ten, Sun Belt, Conference USA, Big Sky and the Big West. He has coached in three FBS bowl games and also spent the 2000 season as the defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach of the Las Vegas Outlaws of the XFL.

Before his two years at Lamar, Criner coached the linebackers at Eastern Michigan. There he produced some of the league's top linebacking talent, including 2014 all-conference honoree, Ronnie Jones.

He spent six seasons at Idaho, serving as the assistant head coach and defensive coordinator, helping build one of the top defenses in the Western Athletic Conference. In 2010, the Vandals were one of the most improved defenses in the nation in terms of scoring defense and pass efficiency defense. Idaho improved by more than 40 spots in the national rankings in both categories. The following season the Vandals made a similar jump in the national rankings in rush defense. All of this coming on the heels of a 2009 season that saw Idaho post an 8-5 overall record and a victory in the Humanitarian Bowl.

He spent 2006 at Minnesota as the linebackers coach and co-special teams coordinator, helping the team reach the Insight.com Bowl against Texas Tech. Criner coached the Minnesota linebackers during an 11-2 campaign that saw them finish 7-1 in Big Ten play.

Criner made the jump to the Big 10 following two seasons as the defensive coordinator at Middle Tennessee, where he also coached the secondary. He took the job with the Blue Raiders following a two-year stint at Cincinnati where he was a co-defensive coordinator working with the Bearcat linebackers. During his two seasons with the Bearcats, Criner helped build one of the nation's top defenses.

The Bearcats finished 2002 ranked among the nation's top 25 in total defense and pass efficiency defense. Cincinnati ended the year with a 6-2 Big East record, and advanced to the New Orleans Bowl. Cincinnati's defense was just as tough the following season ranking among the nation's top 30 in total and pass efficiency defense.

Criner left the college game for one season to serve as the defensive coordinator for the Las Vegas Outlaws of the XFL. His one season with the team, Las Vegas led the league in scoring, rush and total defense, while finishing second in fumbles recovered and third-down defense.

Before his year in the XFL, Criner spent eight seasons in as the defensive coordinator, linebackers coach and special teams coordinator for Portland State. During his time there, the Vikings made a successful jump from the NCAA Division II level up to NCAA I-AA (now FCS) after making the Division II playoffs ever year from 1993-95.

Criner's professional career began at Utah State where he spent two seasons coaching the outside linebackers.

As a player, Criner was a four-year letter winner at Boise State, where he played for Fleming. He received his bachelor's degree from BSU in 1990.