By Matthew Soderberg | Sports Writer
I’m going to be honest: I was hoping Clemson’s defensive coordinator Brent Venables would walk through that door. Well, I picked the wrong DC from the title game, and I’m still not sure what to think.
Dave Aranda is coming off coordinating seven straight top-30 defenses in two of the best conferences in the country. His defenses have produced 13 draftees since his time at Wisconsin, and there will be even more drafted in April.
The defense at LSU this season was underrated. They played at an uber-high pace and scored enough that the defense wasn’t facing real offenses by the second half of most games. Even prior to this season, his defenses have done some of the best jobs against perennial powers like Ohio State and Alabama.
His system also transfers well to what former DC Phil Snow ran at Baylor. The 3-4/3-3-5 hybrid Aranda employs matches the 3-3-5 Snow used, and both systems allow sophomore linebacker Terrell Bernard to run wild in the middle of the defense.
Former coaches, assistants and colleagues all sing praises for the guy, and he returns that as the kind-hearted guy he’s reported to be. He’s also a family man who lives and coaches through his faith.
Yet, I’m still hesitant to be all in. I’m incredibly proud of vice president and director of intercollegiate athletics Mack Rhoades for swinging for the fences and not settling for an in-house option.
Aranda has been described as “cerebral” by both president Dr. Linda Livingstone and sophomore linebacker Terrel Bernard, and that word scares me. Numbers guys generally make better coordinators than they make head coaches, and by all accounts, Aranda is numbers and scheme-driven.
There are exceptions: Kyle Shanahan going from offensive coordinator extraordinaire to Super Bowl head coach and Bill Belichik from defensive guru to one of the best coaches in NFL history. But that track record, especially on defense, has been less successful within the college ranks.
We know his defensive acumen is exceptional, and we know the track record he has getting his players to the professional level, but can he motivate an offense? Can he motivate an entire team?
Now, this is definitely not the worst-case scenario. Jeff Nixon, Baylor’s current offensive coordinator, was floated by CBS Sports as a potential candidate to fill the position. In my opinion, that would have been a disaster.
Baylor’s offense was dreadful this past season, and part of that was the offensive line, but a strong portion has to be squarely placed on Nixon’s shoulders. Junior quarterback Charlie Brewer showed that he could be great, but most of those flashes came in two-minute situations when the offense is less structured and more feel-based.
That is why I was so hopeful for an offensive genius like Joe Brady, former LSU OC and new Carolina Panthers OC, to take the Baylor job. A passing-game whiz kid could unlock the potential on that side of the field, but Rhoades chose to keep the structure of a defense that led them far this year.
I really am OK with it. I’ve come around a lot. I just don’t think the ceiling on the team is as high as it was under Rhule — the floor is about as high as it was by the end of the previous coach’s run.
However, the floor could be a lot lower. He’s absolutely not the worst option, and he definitely could be the best. Only time will tell whether he was the right hire, but the Baylor faithful should be excited with the new blood at McLane.