In less than 72 hours, LSU hired a replacement for Kevin Steele this week, plucking Dave Aranda away from Wisconsin for, reportedly, a lot of money.
You can read the story version of the Q&A here – where we talked to a host of former assistants and bosses of Aranda.
The 39-year-old up-and-comer spoke to The Advocate for 30 minutes Saturday from his childhood home in Redlands, California. This is the first part of a two-part Q&A with the guy some call “The Professor” because of his defensive wizardry.
In Part 1, Aranda goes into detail about his defensive philosophy and scheme and how his unit might look at LSU. In Part 2, Aranda discusses his life and a wild, meteoric rise to football stardom that began at a tiny Division III school.
How would you introduce yourself to the LSU fan base. What kind of guy is Dave Aranda?
I think I’m a good guy. I think I realize how important it is to treat people right and to be around good people and let good people do what they do. I don’t think it’s ever been anything about ego and, (on the) staffing side, it’s great to be around great coaches. There’ll be a general idea of something we’ve done in the past. I can bring it up and say, ‘Hey, this is what we do.’ But I like to go around the room and get peoples’ opinions and if there’s a better way to do it, then let’s do that. If that way fits all personnel better, then let’s do that. I want everybody to have a piece in that and have every one feel ownership of it.
With the players … the worst thing you can do is have a structure that is entirely playbook based. ‘The book says this. The book says that.’ What you want to do is start from the book and then build it to your players, to maximize the strengths of your players. If that means moving people around, if that means blurring the lines in that playbook, then you do it. Hopefully you’re maximizing the best things you got and minimizing the worst things you got.
Those things are the key. Sometimes it gets overlooked because ego is in the way. ‘Hey, this is how we’ve done it. We’ve done this and that.’ None of that is really important.
People get caught up on defensive formations. The 4-3 and 3-4 and the 3-3. How would you describe your defensive formation?
We want to be able to dictate the terms on defense. So much of it is is, when you talk to really good offensive people, if they were to create a passing combination, route combination or passing concept, there’s an underneath route that’s going to pull a defender. There’s a clear-out route that’s going to stretch a defender and there’s an option route to the side.
They dictate to you the terms. Meaning, if our guy on defense does this, they’re going to have to make that one-on-one (matchup) here. Or, if our guy does that, they’ve got the one-on-one (matchup) there. What you want to do is flip that as best you can. You want to do that with pressure or simulated pressure to where you’re dictating the terms to them. They have to react to you.
If they block it this way, there’s a free rusher here. If they ID it that way, there’s a free rusher there. That is No. 1. Whatever the defensive structure is, based upon our people and coaching strengths, that’s what it is. That’s the structure. You want to dictate the terms.
No. 2, you want to change the match. Football is a game of 11 on 11. Whoever has the most people at the point of attack wins. There’s two things there. One is the ability to run to the football, the want to run to the football, the fundamentals of beating blocks and tackling and those things. That’s important. Two is the scheme of things. The deception, the attacking, the let’s show numbers here, get them to see that and flip it and bring numbers over there.
Hawaii we were a 4-3, and ran some 3-4. At Delta State we were a 3-3-5, and at Utah State we were a 3-4. The very first year at Wisconsin we were a 3-4 but played very much like a 4-3. We were pretty good on defense that year. It was a bit of a transition. A lot of D-linemen so we played to those strengths.
This last year, (we had) two years recruiting so we had a lot more linebackers so we played more like a traditional 3-4 of all the three years at Wisconsin. That was because we had the people to do it.
It just depends on who you have, what they can do and all of that. That’s the fun part about it. I think that helps you too because people are seeing tape on you and prepping for you. The stuff they’re looking at may not be the stuff you’re doing, the stuff you need to do because of what you got.
You’ve run a lot of different defenses at a lot of different places so what do you see in LSU’s defense? You played LSU last year. What do you see in its defense and how you might approach it here?
I like the ability to play man-to-man and I like the ability … their DBs, to get into peoples’ faces and challenge them. You’re dictating the terms. I like the ability of the defensive linemen to create pressure. They can play the run on the way to rushing the passer. I like the ability of the linebackers to run in space and also be blitzers.
So much we have is simulated pressure. So there’s things where, all you’re doing is bringing four guys but it looks like more than that. That’s the thought really. You’re attacking protections. You’re identifying how people block, and you’re trying to set up your defense so they block it that way so you can attack the weakness. You attack the weakness with some darn good rushers.
I think there’s some corners at LSU that can blitz. I think there’s safeties at LSU that can blitz. I know there’s linebackers that can. I think if you’re at a traditional 4-3 structure those cats blitz, maybe, in a game, three, four times on first down. Maybe, in a game, three to four times on third down. What we’ve been doing is they’re blitzing, but they’re the fourth-rusher. We’re just creating an over or an under. It’s not we’re just playing Cover 3 behind or playing Cover 2. Instead of lining up over and under, we’re blitzing to an over and under. We’re blitzing to an over and under, but it’s a DB coming, it’s a linebacker or whatever.
That linebacker may blitz 30 times in a game. That’s about what happened this last (bowl) game (against Southern Cal). He blitzed quite a bit. There’s going to be a lot of opportunities for tackles for losses and sacks, just with the type of guy you’re getting in the one-on-one matchups. That part is really exciting.
People call you “The Professor.” Why is that?
I don’t know. All you can do is be who you are.
It was a tough call to make with (Wisconsin Coach Paul Chryst). I appreciate him so much. That first game, going against him, that’s going to be a big challenge. He’s a great coach. He’s a great tactician, great strategist. He’s very, very sharp. But he’s even a better person.
One of the things I said to him – this is to answer your question – ‘Coach, thanks for letting me be me.’ I know it was hard for him. I think we all like action movies, ya know what I mean? You want to be the Han Solo and stuff. You want to be like that guy, want to be that guy running from the huddle to the play and barking and jumping up and down. I’ve never been that way. Part of me wishes at times I could because I like seeing that stuff in movies, ya know? But I’ve never been like that.
I think that’s where that “professor” stuff comes from. All you can be is who you are. I think the players see that and they end up respecting it, but it’s a different way. I was talking to Coach Chryst saying, ‘Thank you for letting me be me.’ When you come in and it’s new and you see a dude that’s not being in your mind, a fiery defensive coordinator, it’s different. I appreciate that from him.
When did you know that you’d be the next LSU defensive coordinator?
All of it happened quick ya know. We played our game, drove back and stayed in San Diego over night. We were driving back to Redlands, California, where I went to high school and met my wife and all of that. When we were driving back is when we started hearing from LSU and having talks. It all happened pretty quick. That was two days ago and yesterday, it kind of came together.
Did you visit Baton Rouge?
No no. We only really talked for, I don’t know, a full day. It was pretty quick.
What’s the process the next few days as far as transitioning to Baton Rouge?
I’m not sure. I’m talking to Coach (Les Miles) and a couple of guys down there today. I think the plan is to try to get out early next week and have the press conference and would like for my family to come. We’re talking about the family coming up there. They’re interested in seeing it and looking around. The thought is, some point Monday, Tuesday, getting back up there and seeing the place.
More LSU Football
- Meet ‘The Professor’: New LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda climbed the coaching ladder with a cerebral approach and a fervent desire to keep learning