For John Battle, this is a first.
In his decade or so of football, the LSU defensive back has played under coaches who like to yell and scream.
You know, the clichéd football coach — the one you see in movies and on television, red-faced and barking at his players with a vein popping out of his forehead and broken clipboards left in his wake.
Over the past 10 months, Battle has realized there’s a different kind of football coach out there.
You know, Dave Aranda — the unassuming man who stalks LSU’s sideline, manila folder in hand, and whispers plays into a microphone so others can wildly signal them in, the quiet guy who teaches during preseason practice instead of shouting and cursing.
“I’m only used to the rah-rah coach, the get-in-your-face type,” Battle said. “I guess this new style works.”
Through 10 games, opponents have scored just 11 touchdowns against LSU’s defense. No defense in college football has allowed fewer. Top-ranked Alabama, which has given up 13 TDs in 11 games, is the closest.
The No. 25 Tigers (6-4, 4-3 Southeastern Conference) and their stiff defense meet No. 22 Texas A&M (8-3, 4-3) at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in College Station. The game inside the game is the battle of two of college football’s top defensive gurus — one who works at LSU and one who used to.
John Chavis and Aranda have contrasting styles but, then again, most coaches do when stacked against Aranda.
“He’s weird, man,” running back Leonard Fournette said. “He doesn’t speak a lot. I think he’s more of an action man.”
“I haven’t seen any coach like him,” outside linebacker Arden Key said. “He doesn’t say much. It’s like he’s not out there. He has that little mean stare at you, like you’re in trouble, but he’s trying to read what’s going on or the different things the offense is running or what’s not working.”
Those in the coaching industry refer to Aranda as “The Professor” or “The Mad Scientist.” He’s an X's and O’s guru who shuts the door to his office and buries himself in game tape, cooking up a way to hold the next opponent scoreless.
He raced off the field at Tiger Stadium after the spring game, only speaking to media members after a reporter chased him down.
“He’s not the one to come talk to you,” Key said. “He might give you a little stare, and (you’re) like, ‘What’s going on, Coach?’ ”
His quiet demeanor hasn’t rubbed off on his loud bunch. His players are creating as much havoc, especially in the red zone, like those teams Chavis molded early in his tenure at LSU. The Tigers are 11th nationally in total defense (308.1 yards a game) and are sixth in scoring (14.1), meaning they’re on pace to join some elite company. The LSU defense has held every opponent to 21 points or fewer — which only three SEC programs have accomplished since 1990.
All of this has LSU fans giddy about their new coordinator, but they’re also anxious about his future.
The program remains without a permanent head coach after Les Miles was fired Sept. 26 — three days before Aranda’s 40th birthday. Aranda’s future isn’t clear. Like the rest of LSU's assistants, he’s not allowed to speak with reporters.
But university leaders plan to go to great lengths to keep him in Baton Rouge, no matter who's hired to be the head coach. Aranda reciprocated that interest in remaining at LSU, a source confirmed to The Advocate.
The result of LSU’s coaching search could determine his future. Aranda’s chances at staying are greatly increased if university leaders keep interim Ed Orgeron as the full-time coach. Orgeron, 55, remains a viable choice — especially given the boost it would provide in keeping Aranda and, potentially, hiring a proven offensive coordinator with a successful track record.
Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher and Houston coach Tom Herman are candidates LSU has reached out to through third parties.
Aranda in January signed a three-year contract worth $1.2 million per year, a deal that can be reworked at season’s end. LSU paid former offensive coordinator Cam Cameron $1.5 million in his final full year with the program in 2015, and the Tigers doled out $1.3 million in Chavis’ final year of 2014.
Battle, a junior safety, still talks to the guy he calls “Chief.” In fact, they speak “two to three” times a month, Battle said. They’ve talked recently.
“He’s excited to get me up there (to A&M for the game),” Battle said Chavis told him.
Chavis was always known as a screamer at LSU, someone who would drop a dirty word, his deep, country drawl clearly audible booming across LSU’s practice fields.
“You know he’s going to get in your face sometimes if you mess up,” Battle said. “If I see him before the game, of course, it’s all love. During the game, it’s all war. But after that, it’s all love again.”
Some at LSU don’t share that affection for a man whose departure from LSU nearly two years ago lingers in court.
Amid the rising din of chatter about who LSU’s next football coach will be, a couple of thin…
A suit between Chavis and LSU over the $400,000 buyout the school says he owes hit its 19th month this week. There has been no talk of settling a suit that, in normal cases, would have been handled out of court, lawyers told The Advocate.
Even District Judge Timothy Kelley, who's overseeing the case, pleaded earlier this year during a hearing for the sides to come to an agreement outside the court room. It did not happen. The latest development in the case came a month ago, when Kelley, an LSU football season-ticket holder, refused to throw out LSU's lawsuit against Chavis, saying a jury should decide whether he breached his contract in leaving for the Aggies.
Back on the field, Chavis’ scheme at A&M isn’t so different from the one he ran here. While watching A&M film this week, Battle said LSU's defensive players recognized plenty. They were “calling plays out” in a meeting because of “little giveaways,” he said.
“But Chief always has something up his sleeve,” Battle said. “He may bring something different to the table.”