Ranking the SEC's top defensive assistants
Does defense still win championships? Alabama gave up 40 points in the championship game … and won. OK, that’s not the best example. But the Tide did shut out Michigan State in the semifinal game, plus they held Florida to 15 points in the SEC Championship Game. So there, defenses do still win championships.
With that settled let’s take a look at the top defensive assistants in the SEC West, where the league’s champion has emerged the last seven seasons.
1. Jeremy Pruitt, Defensive coordinator, Alabama – With Kirby Smart taking the head coaching job at Georgia, Alabama head coach Nick Saban lured Pruitt, the Georgia defensive coordinator, back to Tuscaloosa where he won national championships with the Tide in 2011 and 2012 as the team’s defensive backs coach. Pruitt was an assistant at Alabama from 2007-12. He won another national championship, this time at Florida State as the Seminoles’ defensive coordinator in 2013. But he’s back at Alabama after spending the last two seasons with Mark Richt at Georgia and looks to pick up right where he left off.
2. John Chavis, Defensive coordinator, Texas A&M – “Chief” continues to do what he does. In his first season at Texas A&M, he improved the Aggies’ defense. Granted, there was no place to go but up after finishing last in the conference in total defense in 2014. Still, Chavis improved the squad measurably, and if his history is any indication, 2016 should be even better. He made Tennessee a top defensive team. Then, he did the same at LSU. This year could be another stellar one in the long line of them for Chavis with studs Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall up front, and Armani Watts and Donovan Wilson in the secondary.
3. Dave Aranda, Defensive coordinator, LSU – Like Chavis, Aranda has improved the defenses he’s been the leader of in stops at both Utah State and Wisconsin. He looks to do the same as LSU’s third DC in three years. At Wisconsin last season, he guided a Badgers unit that ranked No. 1 in the nation in scoring defense, allowing an average of just 13.7 points per game. The plan is to get LSU as close to that figure as he can after the Tigers yielded an average of 24.3 points per game in 2015, which ranked 10th in the SEC.
4. Paul Rhoads, Defensive backs, Arkansas – One of the better hires of the offseason was Razorbacks head coach Bret Bielema going out and getting former Iowa State head coach Paul Rhoads. Familiar with the trials and tribulations of the SEC, Rhoads was the defensive coordinator at Auburn in 2008 after eight seasons in the same capacity at Pittsburgh. Rhoads was the Cyclones’ head coach from 2009-15, posting a 32-55 record and now looks to be an asset for an Arkansas defense that ranked near the bottom nationally in pass defense.
5. Dave Wommack, Defensive coordinator, Ole Miss – Wommack’s stock rose to an all-time high in 2014 when the Rebels’ defense led the SEC and the nation in scoring defense, allowing just 16 points per game. But the Rebels regressed defensively in 2015, finishing eighth in the SEC in scoring defense while yielding an average of 22.6 points per game. Rebounding from that effort is paramount on the mind of Wommack, who was DC at UNLV, Southern Miss, Arkansas and Georgia Tech over his coaching career, which dates all the way back to 1981.