Baylor football is reportedly turning its program over to LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda. Aranda will replace Matt Rhule, who left Baylor for the NFL after three seasons.
Aranda was selected over a host of other candidates. Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente and Louisiana coach Billy Napier were both candidates who withdrew their names today. Associate head coach Joey McGuire also got a tremendous amount of consideration, but athletic director Mack Rhoades opted to go with an external hire.
Rhoades has made four previous hires in his career. The two internal hires with Tony Levine and Barry Odom – both struggled. The two previous head coaching candidates Rhoades externally hired were Matt Rhule and Tom Herman.
Here are five initial thoughts that we have about Baylor’s new head coaching hire.
Aranda is a defensive genius
Few coaches in college football are as respected on the defensive side of the ball as Aranda. He had tremendous success at Utah State, when Matt Wells was the offensive coordinator. He also coached at Wisconsin – a power run team – and LSU – a spread passing team.
Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher threw an insane amount of money to try and lure Aranda from LSU before settling on Mike Elko. That should tell you the type of credibility Aranda has at just 43 years old. There’s plenty left to prove from a program-building perspective, but as an on-field coach, Aranda is special.
Aranda has run different types of defenses at his different stops. With the strengths Baylor has at linebacker and inexperience on the defensive line, expect Aranda to come up with unique ways to utilize the talent.
Baylor is sticking with what works
The Bears made it back to the College Football Playoff picture in just three years after completely shifting from an explosive offensive team to a hard-nosed defensive one. While Baylor is losing nine starters on defense, the defensive culture is now in place for Aranda.
Now, Aranda is just the second coach with a solely defensive background in the Big 12. The other has been tremendous on his own accord: Gary Patterson. If Baylor can maintain its hard-nosed, physical attitude, the Bears will continue to be a thorn in the side of the rest of the Big 12.
That said, Aranda will not be working within the recruiting machines of LSU or Wisconsin. Baylor recruits more traditionally. Aranda will need to prove that he can win with some high three-star and a handful of blue-chips instead of blue-chips at every position.
His offensive hire will be critical
Since Aranda has never run a program, it’s completely unclear what kind of identity we should expect on offense. LSU had a dynamic spread offense, but many defensive coaches opt to hamstring the offense in order to help the defense.
ESPN Central Texas is reporting that Aranda plans to target Utah offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig for the role. Ludwig produced better offenses than expected at Utah and previously at Vanderbilt. Baylor has drastically more offensive talent than either of those schools, so the hope is that he’s able to capitalize.
Aranda needs a Joey McGuire-type on staff
LSU is one of the top recruiting programs in America. Ed Orgeron’s presence helped take the team to the next level. Aranda was a part of that, but recruiting at Baylor is a different animal.
Baylor recruiting doesn’t work like that. Aranda will have to spend much of his first few weeks and months proving his mettle as a recruiter in this state. He would benefit greatly from trying to retain Joey McGuire, who was considered the top internal candidate to replace Rhule.
McGuire is perhaps the most popular coach among Texas high school coaches. He helped Rhule seamlessly integrate into the state. Aranda could use McGuire’s credibility as he takes over one of the big Texas programs. If McGuire opts to leave, Aranda has to find another similar option.
Is he ready for this job?
While Aranda has proven his chops at the highest levels of college football, Baylor is still a big jump for him. Aranda was rumored to be interested in the UNLV and Hawaii jobs earlier this offseason. Instead, he ended up with a high-profile Power Five job.
There’s no question that he’s an outstanding coach and one of the rising stars in this game. He has virtually zero blemishes on his resume and is fresh off a national title run. But still, being a good coach isn’t a guarantee that you can build a program.
Aranda has plenty of big questions to answer as he takes over a program that suddenly fancies itself a year-in, year-out Big 12 title contender.
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