Why Dave Aranda is a better fit for LSU football than Jimbo Fisher

Adam Hunsucker
Lafayette Daily Advertiser
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The clock is ticking on LSU athletic director Scott Woodward’s search for a new football coach.

Ed Orgeron is about to coach his final game in Tiger Stadium. He could hang around for a bowl game, if LSU (5-6, 2-5 SEC) can beat No. 14 Texas A&M (8-3, 4-3) in the regular season finale on Saturday (6 p.m. ESPN).

Woodward, formerly Texas A&M’s AD, would be wise to use his ties in the Lone Star State. The ideal candidate resides along the Brazos River. He has Power 5 head-coaching experience, was a part of a national championship at LSU and worked alongside Woodward in Baton Rouge.

And it’s not Jimbo Fisher.

Dave Aranda checks all those boxes. LSU’s former defensive coordinator has Baylor ranked 10th in the country. The Bears are in the hunt for a spot in the Big 12 Championship Game, having beaten previously undefeated Oklahoma on Nov. 13.

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LSU wants a splash hire — who doesn’t at this time of the year — but the market is getting crowded. Florida fired Dan Mullen on Sunday, while USC, TCU, Virginia Tech and Washington all have vacancies. More jobs will open up before bowl season.

Woodward and Fisher are close. Their friendship blossomed while Fisher was LSU’s offensive coordinator under Nick Saban and Woodward worked as the school’s director of external affairs. That relationship — and a 10-year, $75 million guaranteed contract — helped lure Fisher to Texas A&M from Florida State.

Fisher agreed to a four-year extension in September, upping his salary to $9 million per year. The school’s board of regents agreed to dump $205 million into athletic facilities. The Aggies finally beat Saban and Alabama this season.

At this point, any pursuit of Fisher is nothing but expensive and counterproductive.

If Woodward would set aside his infatuation with big names, he’d see that Aranda is both the innovative thinker and CEO that Orgeron was not. When Baylor underperformed offensively in his first season, Aranda quietly made the appropriate staff changes. He didn’t bellow about it publicly like Orgeron, who has made offensive coordinator Jake Peetz his public pinata.

Unlike Orgeron, Aranda hired assistants he trusts and lets them do their jobs. He wanted a more aggressive approach on fourth down from new offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes, who was LSU’s offensive line coach from 2014-17. Baylor has converted 69 percent on fourth down this season, an improvement from 60 percent in 2020.

Per Next Gen Stats, Baylor has faced the same number of “go-for-it situations” as last season, but have increased its success rate from 33%  to 89%.

Aranda, nicknamed the “Mad Scientist” at LSU, identified flaws in his approach and used the available data to fix them. Meanwhile, Orgeron’s fourth-down gaffes have cost the Tigers in multiple games. 

Orgeron and Aranda clashed at times over defensive philosophy. Aranda runs an unpredictable 3-4 scheme predicated on blitzing. Orgeron prefers the base 4-3 he learned from Jimmy Johnson and Pete Carroll, but retained Aranda, who was hired by Les Miles, after becoming LSU’s full-time coach in Nov. 2016. 

LSU never finished worse than 33rd in points allowed under Aranda. Bo Pelini, Aranda’s successor, installed the 4-3 for the 2020 season. The Tigers fielded one of the worst units in school history and Pelini was fired.

Daronte Jones, who replaced Pelini, reinstalled some blitzes and 3-4 looks during the bye week. The presentation was reminiscent of Aranda’s playbook and so were the results. LSU has allowed only 16.7 points over the past three games.

LSU had three chances to hire Fisher over the years. The closest it came to happening was in 2015, when Miles received a last-second pardon after beating Texas A&M.

This ship has sailed. At 56 years old, it makes no sense for Fisher to walk away from College Station to start over in Baton Rouge. Nor would it be wise for Woodward to reset the market on salaries for Fisher, who despite leading Texas A&M to a win over Alabama, failed to win the SEC West once again.

At some point, the Aggies are going to start asking why they’re paying Fisher $3.6 million per win.

The last three coaches at LSU have all won national titles. Two of them were also fired. This program knows only two speeds — unrealistic jubilation or utter disdain — and the line between the two thins each time Alabama wins another championship.

Aranda thrived despite that dynamic. The players fed off his steady, low-key demeanor while traversing LSU’s trademark insanity. It’s much easier to operate this way as the defensive coordinator than the head coach, but Aranda has already proven capable of growing in ways his immediate predecessors couldn’t.

Adam Hunsucker covers LSU for the USA TODAY Network. Email him at ahunsucker@gannett.com or follow him on Twitter @adam_hunsucker. Enjoy Adam’s work?  Consider a digital subscription for unlimited access.

Baylor coach Dave Aranda calls a timeout against TCU on Nov. 6 in Fort Worth.
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