Finding the right fit: Aranda makes changes to offensive staff

Baylor head coach Dave Aranda, center, with his team following their loss to Oklahoma State. (Rod Aydelotte/Waco Tribune Herald, pool)

By DJ Ramirez | Sports Editor

If it doesn’t work, fix it.

And there were several things Baylor football looked to fix during the offseason after finishing with a 2-7 record in Dave Aranda’s first season as head coach. The Bears saw major turnover on the offensive side of the ball with the transfer of senior players like Charlie Brewer and John Lovett, and also bid farewell to most of their offensive coaches, including offensive coordinator Larry Fedora.

Aranda and company got to work filling the holes in Baylor’s staff, bringing in BYU’s Jeff Grimes and Eric Mateos as the new OC and offensive line coaches respectively. Clemson’s Chansi Stuckey also made the move to Waco as the new receivers coach. Shawn Bell remained as the quarterbacks coach and Justin Johnston will continue as the running backs coach. Aranda also hired a new strength and conditioning coach with LSU’s Vic Vilora.

“I think you do everything you can to learn and get better,” Aranda said of the coaching changes. “So, I feel like that’s very much the case here. I think hiring for a fit and hiring for the temperament and the environment of Baylor, I think is an important piece, and that’s what a lot of these were about.”

Working with Aranda at LSU before going on to run a successful offense at BYU, Grimes and Mateos are familiar with the head coach’s philosophies. Grimes said he had always respected Aranda’s work but also grew to appreciate his inquisitiveness.

“I was really, really impressed with his openness to new ideas, his constant questioning, looking for a better way to do something,” Grimes said.

In a similar sentiment, Aranda said Grimes, a Garland native, will bring a strong identity to the offense, as well as the opportunity for more play action pass plays and a strong run game. Grimes coached a Cougars squad last season that was top 15 in 10 different statistical categories, including scoring, passing offense and total offense. Grimes said he wants his offense to be “reliable and violent.”

“Those two words, reliable and violent, I think are the two things that are critical to an offense being able to succeed,” Grimes said. “Reliable meaning you’re consistently good, you can be trusted, you can do things the right way all the time, and I think the first thing an offense needs to be able to do is not lose the game. So, you don’t have foolish penalties and turnovers and missed assignments and things that lose the game before you even have a chance to win it. And then, the way you have an opportunity to win the game is to go out there and play with violence and play with an edge.”

Grimes also said he believes success on offense begins with the offensive line, which was a point of concern for Baylor during the 2020 season.

“I think any good offense should start with the offensive line,” Grimes said. “They’re the tip of the spear. If our offensive line produces, in particular if they have a physical aggressive mindset, which Coach Mateos and I will demand, then the rest of our offense will follow along, because they can only do their jobs. Everybody else can only do their jobs if the offensive linemen do theirs the right way first.”

Aranda also landed another great hire in Stuckey, the former Clemson quarterback/wide receiver. Stuckey played for the New York Jets, Cleveland Browns and Arizona Cardinals over five season after being selected in the seventh round of the 2007 NFL Draft. He began his coaching career in 2019 as a graduate assistant at his alma mater before taking on an offensive player development role in 2020. Aranda said Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said he hit a “home run” hiring the new wide receivers coach.

“I think there’s an enthusiasm and there’s an authentic heart that’s in there, man,” Aranda said. “And when you’re sitting across from him, you feel it. I know our players will.”

Going into the offseason, Aranda said he’s looking forward to what he believes will be a foundational spring. With more knowledge of how to handle COVID-19 protocol it will be easier for the staff to adjust to uncertainty.

“There is more of an understanding of what lies ahead and the steps to take and paths to avoid. I think that’s huge,” Aranda said. “So I’m really looking forward to winter, it’s going to be a foundation for us this year, for sure. We’re all in on it.”