Taken simply on the merits of trying to get the best person for the job, LSU’s hiring of Dave Aranda to be its new defensive coordinator is significant enough.
If Aranda didn’t trade Wisconsin red for LSU purple and gold — and the green of a three-year contract that will reportedly pay him $1.3 million next season — he would have likely wound up cloaked in the colors of another school, like Tennessee or his home-state power, Southern California.
Aranda is widely viewed as a rising star, an aggressive, risk-taking, new-age kind of defensive coordinator who has the chops and the tactics to take on and neutralize the new-age offenses that have made their way into the playbooks of virtually every Southeastern Conference school.
The operative word is “virtually,” because LSU has shown little tendency or ability to date to embrace this new world order in college football. The Tigers and coach Les Miles have maintained their devotion to a traditional power running game with a missionary zeal. The book on LSU has been that if, it passes the ball, it’s much more by necessity than design.
But perhaps Aranda’s arrival signals a thaw in the Cold War-era offensive politics of the way LSU tries to move the ball.
At his final pre-Texas Bowl news conference while seated next to the living embodiment of modern offense — pass-happy Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury — Miles said his staff would go out this offseason and study the schemes of spread-offense teams. Certainly a visit to Texas Tech’s campus wouldn’t be a bad place to start.
Miles has talked of balanced offense before. This year’s team finished 106th nationally in passing offense, averaging 179.8 yards per game, thanks in large part to a 261-yard passing “bonanza” against the defensively stunted Red Raiders.
But if he’s willing to go out of his comfort zone and hire Aranda, an out-of-the-box defensive thinker for sure, then maybe Miles is ready to unleash the kind of offensive plays that will help take opposing teams out of the box when they line up to defend the Tigers.
Miles strongly considered Aranda a year ago but chose Kevin Steele to be his defensive coordinator instead. Steele was a safer hire — more experienced, purely in years in the business and in the SEC — while Aranda had just completed but his second season at a Power Five conference school. An understandable move.
Another great season by Aranda at Wisconsin — his Badgers ranked in the top four nationally in total, scoring, rushing and pass efficiency defense — and Steele’s abrupt departure for Auburn were enough to make Miles want to consummate the deal with “The Professor” this time.
This does not mean Miles is about to go out and comb the ranks for an offensive version of Aranda. As expected, Miles said he expects the rest of his staff to remain intact. Athletic director Joe Alleva told The Advocate on Tuesday that the school is working on a new contract for offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, now about to embark on his fourth season in Tigertown.
That news is no doubt going to send some Tigers fans into a funk. But remember, Cameron is the guy who called the plays in 2013 that helped LSU become the first school in SEC history to have two 1,000-yard receivers (Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry) and a 1,000-yard rusher (Jeremy Hill) in the same season, plus a 3,000-yard passer in Zach Mettenberger to boot.
Cameron was head coach at Indiana when Antwaan Randle El was one of the college game’s brightest offensive stars. Cameron can call the plays to diversify LSU’s offense — even without shearing away completely from its power running roots — just as Alabama and Arkansas did last season. It’s a matter of the man under the white hat having the will to do so.
They say a near-death experience will change a person. Miles had a near-death experience in regards to his career at LSU this season. His hiring of Aranda and his announcement that his staff will be out studying what other schools do to move the ball are signs of a man who has had an epiphany.
Talk is cheap, of course. So, relatively speaking, are the plane tickets and rental cars it will take to send LSU’s coaches out to gather offensive information. It’s up to Miles to let them implement it, to craft an offense that’s as aggressive as Aranda’s defense is likely to be.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.