The Duality of Dave Aranda

Photo by Carter Pirtle

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Dave Aranda had a recurring fear when he took over at Baylor in 2020.

He's walking down a hallway in the football facility, head down, oblivious to the people around him. Someone passes him walking the opposite direction. It's a player, a coach, an athletic staff member or a staff member's wife. Someone he should know. Except Aranda doesn't recognize them. His mind is too consumed with football. His body is there but he is not. 

This is the version of Dave Aranda his family and friends saw when he was the defensive coordinator at Wisconsin and LSU. He was a machine. He won championships. Football was every hour of every day. And his relationships suffered for it. His tenure at Baylor, his first as a head coach, would be different.

Except now he enters Year 5 after a 3-9 season that almost saw him canned, and the only reason Aranda is still in Waco is because he promised he'd become the defensive play-caller again. He's made strides in his personal life and now returns to the role that once consumed him.

"I’m counting on some growth from the person that I was to this version of it, where we can balance that better,” Aranda said from the podium at Big 12 Media Days.

Because regardless of how great Aranda the man is, Baylor needs Aranda the defensive wizard too. 

“I do feel we will be better," Aranda said. "The emphasis on ball makes all the difference. Me being involved has made a huge difference. I hate to say that and don’t want it to feel like a flex or anything, but I think me being involved in ball makes a huge difference.”

Aranda's spent the most important offseason of his coaching career reading. He mentioned three books from the ESPN Production desk - biographies on Martin Luther King Jr., Muhammad Ali and Derek Jeter. He describes how Jeter, even when he had a poor performance, would exit Yankees' Stadium and spend an hour signing autographs for fans while his teammates slinked off. This is sequestering of the mind Aranda so desires, where the personal and the football coexist without football swallowing him whole.

The balancing act in his personal life mirrors that as the program leader. His first four years as a head coach have seen the most dramatic change in the college football landscape with NIL and the Transfer Portal. He admitted at the end of last season he had held Baylor back on the NIL front. Baylor's 2024 recruiting class plummeted from 33rd in the nation to 62nd and second to last in the Big 12. And Aranda felt great about every official and in-home visit. Parents said they saw the Baylor coaches as mentors and felt great about sending their boy to Waco. In Aranda's ideal world that would be enough. But it's not. 

So when asked about Baylor's recent recruiting surge, he didn't have the heart to say these high schoolers simply loved the program culture and the team's outlook. They'd always raved about those things. The difference now is they're paying players.  

“As coaches, we’re trying to get the best recruiting class," Aranda said. "But really what we’re doing is trying to be transformational in a transactional act.”

That sums up Aranda's tenure: he's trying to be in this new world without being of this new world.

If he finds the balance between these two Dave Aranda's, he'll get another season in Waco.

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