Dave Aranda always returned home to California with books.
On a trip to Ohio, he might return with six. On a voyage to Dallas, he could bring back four. After a weeklong stay in Louisiana, it might be nine.
“My wife did the finances,” Aranda said. “I’d come back with all of these coaching books, and we didn’t have money for the rest of the month.”
Aranda has kept many of those books, acquired during his 20-something days at coaching clinics across the nation. He has a “library” of them, he said, pages filled with secondary coverages, odd-man fronts and safety blitzes, notebooks full of smeared ink and erased pencil.
They’ll come to life in less than two months, when he debuts as LSU’s defensive coordinator against his old team, Wisconsin, in Lambeau Field on Sept. 3, the first Saturday of the 2016 season.
“All of the major pieces to what we do now,” he said, “a lot of them came from coaching clinics.”
Aranda spoke to a room packed full of high school coaches Tuesday at the Louisiana High School Coaches Association convention at Baton Rouge’s Crowne Plaza.
It was an hour of X's and O's led by a guy who has accumulated nicknames, such as “The Professor” or “The Defensive Coordinator Whisperer,” during his meteoric rise to football stardom.
He used history and pop culture to explain his system, as well as feature films and 300-year-old wars.
“Anybody know the movie ‘Seven?’ ” he asked the room at one point.
“Seven,” the 1995 mystery thriller starring Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman, was one topic. So was "Forrest Gump," the 1994 romantic drama starring Tom Hanks. The Revolutionary War came later.
“He sees things differently,” said Ron Roberts, Southeastern Louisiana’s head coach and a friend of Aranda who attended Tuesday's segment.
Aranda separates defenses into two styles. One fights like the 18th-century British military — stubborn, old-school, an immobile formation firing on a target leagues away. Another fights like the Americans — a guerrilla-style attack, versatile, flexible and always on the move.
“What gave the (British) problems was guerrilla warfare,” he said. “Behind the bushes, hanging from the trees.”
Aranda didn’t need to tell the room which of those fighting styles prevailed in the late 1700s. He didn’t need to tell them which he uses in the 2010s, either.
The 39-year-old mans an inventive, attacking, variable scheme bent on disguising and simulating pressure and confusing offensive fronts. The system is built on physical man-to-man coverage and blitzing linebackers as often as 30 times a game.
This is his version of guerrilla warfare — which the coach admitted to needing at previous stops, when the opponents had more talent.
Don’t have the talent? Scramble the scene.
Don’t have the numbers? Confuse the opponent.
“While playing that way, years when we were average, we’ve been able to be good,” said Roberts, who employs a similar type of defense as Aranda. “Years when we’ve had really good players, we were able to be great.”
Dave Aranda scribbled the word “Boomer” on a lit plastic slide.It appeared on the massive pr…
Some would argue that Aranda has the talent edge now. So what will he play?
“Good question,” he said with a smile. “If we feel confident in our roles and confident in what’s being asked of us, we’ve got the ability to be successful to line up and do what we do."
In other words: the base, normal defense — the British style.
“But,” he continued, “the defense’s premise is built on deception, so that’s naturally going to be there. Once we can build upon the three calls we have, that’s going to lend itself to more zipping and zapping and misdirection, if you will.”
Aranda installed his base of three or four packages (also referred to as calls or coverages) during the spring. He has spent the summer installing subpackages — limbs off the main trio of trunks. About a half-dozen subpackages have been added over the summer so far, he said.
“We’re building it," he said. "It’s all going to be based upon the three or four coverages we’ve got, so we’re just building and exchanging jobs. Someone that was rushing is now dropping, or someone else is rushing.”
Confused? That’s the point. It’s a style that helped Aranda’s defense finish second, fourth and seventh nationally during his stint at Wisconsin. Those rankings helped land him this $1.2 million-a-year gig.
Pressure, expectations, hype — they’re at an all-time high for a guy who just 10 years ago coached at a place called California Lutheran and who 20 years ago was in debt after buying all of those books.
Now he’s adjusting to having photos snapped of him during nights out with the family in Baton Rouge.
“I know I get caught in restaurants sometimes and all those things. It’s a little bit different from the other spots I’ve been,” he said. “There’s a rabid enthusiasm for LSU. I appreciate it, and I’m thankful to be a part of it.”