Now the highest paid assistant coach in college football, Dave Aranda can kick his feet up and clearly see the future
What’s the difference between Dave Aranda now, with a new title and a fresh $1.9 million contract making him the highest-paid assistant in college football, and what he was a year ago as he arrived at LSU?
He said it’s that he can kick his feet up and see the future.
Or at least get a clear view of his TV.
“I think anytime you can lay down roots, it’s a positive,” Aranda said Wednesday, when he was made available to reporters during the introductory news conference for offensive coordinator Matt Canada. And he gave a kind of offbeat story from when he first moved to Baton Rouge to illustrates that his roots are indeed being laid at LSU.
“I remember early in the year — and I told the (defensive) staff this — in my house we have a TV, it’s a nice-sized TV, but it’s right up against the box so if you sit on the couch and you have your drink of choice, whatever it is, right in front of it … so you sit back on the couch and your feet are up and you’re seeing your toes. You’re seeing the bottle in front of the TV.”
Because of the obstructed view, Aranda asked his wife back then if they should seek out a solution for the too-low TV.
“She kind of nudged me and said ‘Let’s see after the season,’ ” Aranda, gained the title of associate head coach along with his raise, recalled. “So I’m glad I can get the TV up.”
That’s the itinerant life of a coach. You are so used to having to pick up and move, you never let yourself get too comfortable. But LSU gave the veteran more reasons to feel settled than the soft-spoken 40-year-old has ever felt in a his career.
It would be simplistic to say there are 1.9 million reasons. While that’s true, there’s more to it than that.
LSU and its fan base seem to have fallen in love with the former Wisconsin defensive coordinator, who lived up to his reputation as being one of the best defensive minds in the game by leading LSU’s defense to 13th in the nation, allowing 323 yards per game, a 22 ypg improvement over 2015.
In the process, LSU shut down Alabama for the majority of a 10-0 loss and entered the regular-season finale against Texas A&M having allowed just 11 touchdowns in 10 games.
Aranda’s boss, Ed Orgeron, calls him “the best coordinator in football.” LSU fans seem to love him. And he apparently loves them back.
Enough to raise up the TV for a while.
“I enjoyed working with the coaches, I enjoyed working with our players, the buy-in was there,” Aranda said. “I thought we were able to identify what we were good at. … We tried to minimize the adjustments we had to make, communication errors and things like that.
“There was a learning curve with that the first couple of games but we pushed through, and I give credit to the coaches and give credit the players.”
Of course, the first year was the easy part, at least for his LSU experience. The Tigers had six senior starters on defense, the result of an unusual year where stars such as cornerback Tre’Davious White an linebacker Kendell Beckwith opted to return.
So the talent and experience were there. It was just a matter of old players and a new defensive coordinator adjusting to each other. Aranda brought to LSU ‘s traditional 4-3 defensive program a versatile 3-4 look and adapted it to the players he had.
“I think we are always trying to play to our strengths and I think we were able to do that,” Aranda said. “I think we were able to keep 3-4 concepts, but then find ways to rush Arden Key (who has 10 sacks in 10 games). Those were two separate things, but I think we were able to do that.”
It wasn’t without growing pains. Aranda said he made mistakes early trying to force his preconceptions on players who might have been better doing something else. Mainly, he turned a team built to play man-to-man defense in the passing game into a zone team.
“I think early on in the year I made the mistake of playing too many zones, and I take accountability for it,” he said. “So much of it is seeing things for what they are and not for what you want them to be or what you think they could be, but what they are.
“The hard truths are the biggest thing, because everything plays off of that. I think some of the zones we were playing, I put too much emphasis on it. I think some of the mistakes early in the season, since then we really simplified it.”
And the Tigers got better and better, only slipping in the 54-39 win over Texas A&M when the Tigers were without a couple of their best players in Beckwith and Key. (Beckwith won’t be back for the Citrus Bowl game with Louisville because of a knee injury.)
As it turns out, Aranda’s approach is a perfect extension of the “reformed” Orgeron.
A self-confessed micro-manager during his days at Ole Miss, where he went 10-25, Orgeron learned to delegate more in subsequent runs as interim coach at USC, then LSU.
Orgeron trusts and listens to his coaches. And with Aranda and, now, Canada, he has coordinators who sell themselves on paying attention to strengths and weaknesses of the players over scheme.
“It’s not about plays, it’s about players,” Canada said.
That makes him sort of an offensive version of Aranda, though significantly more animated than his defensive counterpart. They’ve never coached together, but they just missed each other at Wisconsin, where Canada was offensive coordinator in 2012 before leaving for North Carolina State. A year later, Aranda arrived as defensive coordinator and bought Canada’s house.
“We just sold it,” Aranda said. “It took us a while to sell it. But it was a great little neighborhood, we were coming in, similar to what’s happening with Matt right now, we got the job at Wisconsin at about this time. I get all these texts from (NC State coach) Dave Doeren and all these guys at NC State (saying) ‘Buy Matt’s house. It’s a great house.’ and all that. He was great to work with that way. I have a lot of respect for him. I’m excited he’s here.”
Beyond tastes in houses, they shared the desire to consider the players before considering scheme.
It’s the culture now at LSU, “players first,” as Canada puts it, or “seeing things for what they are and not what you want them to be,” as Aranda puts it.
Things are plenty good now for Aranda. He can kick back and know he’s well paid at a program where he should be able to get the players he needs to continue to build on his already sterling reputation.