Making the Case: Looking at Dave Aranda for LSU coaching job
LSU athletic director Scott Woodward was brought to Baton Rouge for one reason -- make the right hires needed to lead the LSU program through the next decade.
Woodward's ability to make transformative hires has been his calling card for years. It has only grown during his brief return to the Pelican State with the hires of Hall of Fame coach Kim Mulkey to lead the women's basketball team and poached Pac-12 Coach of the Year Jay Johnson from the Arizona baseball program.
But it is this hire that he be most remembered for, at least around these parts, so the pressure is building in Baton Rouge.
In this series, TigerDetails will explore the options for LSU under a traditional Rivals headline "Making the Case." In the fourth part of the series, writer Julie Boudwin takes a dive into Baylor head coach Dave Aranda's career.
PREVIOUS INSTALLMENTS OF MAKING THE CASE
Starting out -- Aranda got his coaching career started at his high school after several surgeries ended his playing career. He became an assistant coach at Redlands High School in 1995. He then served as an assistant coach at his college alma mater, California Lutheran, from 1996-99 while he completed his degree in philosophy. Aranda spent the next few years of his life in Texas as a graduate assistant at Texas Tech from 2000-02 followed by time at Houston as the linebackers coach from 2003-04. Then he went back to his old stomping grounds at Cal Lutheran for two years as the defensive coordinator and linebackers coach.
Aranda coached at Delta State University in 2007, where he served as co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach. Following the season, he spent one month as defensive coordinator at Southern Utah. In one year at Delta State, Aranda helped the school win the Gulf South Conference and lead NCAA Division II in pass efficiency defense, ranking second in total and scoring defense, and third in run defense.
Hawaii -- Aranda joined the Hawaii staff in 2008 as the defensive line coach and moved into the defensive coordinator role from 2010-11. In 2010, Aranda's defense led the nation in turnovers caused (38), while ranking second in the nation in interceptions (23) and ninth in fumbles recovered (15), as well as tying the school record for most defensive touchdowns with five. During the 2011 season at Hawaii, Aranda's defense led the Western Athletic Conference and was tied for 15th in the FBS in sacks with 35.
Utah State -- Aranda spent 2012 as defensive coordinator at Utah State where he helped the Aggies to a school record 11 wins. He oversaw an Aggies defense that ranked No. 7 in the country in scoring defense, allowing just 15.4 points per game.
In addition to scoring defense, Utah State also ranked among the top 15 nationally in sacks (eighth), pass efficiency defense (10th), rush defense (12th) and total defense (15th). The Aggies finished No. 3 nationally in red zone scoring defense (63.6 percent).
Wisconsin -- From 2013-15, Aranda's defense at Wisconsin allowed an average of 289.4 yards per game – which ranked first in the nation over that span. His defense allowed 16.9 points (No. 2 nationally), 179.9 passing yards (No. 3 nationally) and 109.6 rushing yards (No. 4 nationally) over the three years, a stretch that saw Wisconsin post a 30-10 record, reach the Big Ten title game in 2014 and play in two New Year's Day bowl games.
Aranda's 2015 defense capped the regular season leading the nation in points allowed at 13.1 points a contest. Wisconsin ranked No. 3 in the nation in total defense (268.5 yards per game), No. 4 in rushing defense (95.4 yards per game) and No. 7 in passing defense (173.2 yards per game).
LSU -- Under Aranda’s direction from 2016-19, LSU ranked in the top five in most defensive categories in the SEC. The Tigers led the SEC in interceptions from 2018-19, along with ranking in the top three in rushing defense and sacks three times between 2016-19. His defensive unit has also ranked in the top five in passing defense and total defense in three of those four seasons, along with top four in scoring defense twice in that period.
In his first two seasons in Baton Rouge, Aranda’s defense allowed only 20 passing touchdowns, with the 11 allowed in 2017 tying for fifth nationally. In his first season in 2016, LSU’s defense had one of its best-ever performances as the unit finished the season ranked among the top three in the SEC in four major defensive categories, a feat not accomplished since 2006. It allowed the fewest total touchdowns (16) nationally and fewest touchdowns per game (1.3). The defense ranked fifth nationally in scoring with 15.8 points allowed per game and 10th in total yards allowed (314.4 yards per game). The Tigers held nine of 12 opponents to one touchdown or less and only one opponent scored more than two offensive touchdowns. Individually, linebacker Arden Key broke the school record for sacks in a season with 12.
Over LSU’s final five games of the 2019 season, including the SEC Championship, College Football Playoff and National Championship win, the Tigers allowed only an average of 18 points per game with wins over No. 3 Clemson, No. 4 Oklahoma, No. 4 Georgia, Texas A&M and Arkansas. In that stretch, the Tigers’ defense allowed only 295.0 yards per game and intercepted six passes.
During his time at LSU, seven players earned first team All-America and 11 achieved first team All-SEC status under Aranda. All-America honorees include first team selections Derek Stingley, Jr. (2019), Grant Delpit (2018-19), Devin White (2018), Greedy Williams (2018), Tre’Davious White (2016) and Jamal Adams (2016).
Also, Jacob Phillips was the 2019 SEC leader with 113 tackles, the second consecutive season an LSU linebacker led the league in stops following Devin White in 2018.
Baylor -- Aranda came to Waco in 2020 after four seasons as associate head coach and defensive coordinator at LSU, including a 2020 National Championship and a 2019 SEC Championship.
In his first season at Baylor, Aranda's program featured his first player earning All-America honors with Trestan Ebner being selected to four different All-America teams. Additionally, Ebner was named Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year and nine players were selected to the All-Big 12 team highlighted by first-team defensive back Jalen Pitre.
This season, Aranda's stock has soared especially after the Bears pulled off a huge upset over No. 8 Oklahoma last weekend. The Baylor defense was able to keep Oklahoma to its lowest yardage total since 2014.
And now the 45-year-old Aranda has the Bears sitting at 9-2 this year, and No. 11 in the nation with one regular season game remaining.
(Editor's note: Resume information from his Baylor bio.)
We all know Aranda already fits in Baton Rouge with his successful defenses over the years, plus, a top-notch defense is needed to slow down the SEC's high-powered offenses such as Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Alabama. He has helped elevate numerous defensive players over the years, including while at LSU previously. He even has former Tiger and Baltimore Raven linebacker Patrick Queen pulling for him to get the head coaching job: "Dave Aranda deserves it," Queen tweeted.
He's cerebral and level-headed, the complete opposite of Orgeron, which is something LSU needs in its next hire. With his ability to provide a strong defense and structure within the program, of course Aranda passes "the fit" test.
First, would Aranda want to return to LSU or head home to California to take the USC job? His departure from LSU wasn't the most cordial of departures and he didn't see eye to eye with Orgeron on his way out, which could have put a bad taste in his mouth.
Second, what is Aranda like as a recruiter being the head coach? He doesn't have that reputation of being an elite recruiter, but perhaps that has changed in his two seasons at Baylor. His recruiting game would have to step up as the head man in Baton Rouge to go toe to toe with Nick Saban, Kirby Smart, Jimbo Fisher and others for the nation's top players.
Third, he would absolutely need an elite offensive coordinator to keep the LSU offense heading in the right direction, and to keep the elite offensive skill players committed to LSU.
MAKING THE CASE
Entering the last week of the regular season and Aranda's name is one of the hottest in the country, especially after handling Lincoln Riley's offense in the 27-14 victory over the Sooners. His name has been recently linked to the USC head coach opening, which could be intriguing for Aranda considering he's from Southern California, and of course the LSU job.
We've all seen what Aranda's defenses can do, whether it was at Wisconsin, LSU or now Baylor, and Tiger fans expect a hard-nose defense that can slow or stop the creative spread offenses many teams in the SEC have in today's game.
Aranda has been successful at every step along the way of his coaching career, and with the talent in Louisiana year-after-year, paired with his style of defense, it would make sense that Aranda could become the fourth head coach at LSU to win it all should Woodward decide to go in that direction.