Updated 1:15 a.m. Saturday
LSU’s season opener against Wisconsin in September just got a lot more juicy.
The Tigers hired Wisconsin’s Dave Aranda as defensive coordiantor, the school announced Friday night, replacing Kevin Steele with a 38-year-old up-and-comer from the west coast.
LSU announced the hire less than 72 hours after Steele left the school for Auburn, a surprising move that had coach Les Miles and director of football operations Dean Dingman on the hunt for a DC for the second time in two years.
Aranda, a native of Redlands, California, has led the Badgers defense for the last three seasons. Wisconsin this year finished the regular season No. 1 in the Football Bowl Subdivision in scoring defense, allowing 13.7 points per game.
Wisconsin beat Southern Cal 23-21 on Wednesday in the Holiday Bowl, and the Trojans also were believed to have been in the market for Aranda’s services. USC gained just 286 yards in that contest.
Overall, Wisconsin ranks in the top seven nationally in five major defensive categories: total defense, rushing defense, scoring defense, passing yards allowed and defensive pass efficiency.
His defenses are known to be multiple and variable, having no real true base defensive formation, and they’ve had success against the popular spread offense - a scheme that’s even crept into the Southeastern Conference.
“Dave has brought a defense that really matches up well with all the spread offenses and can still hold up against the running teams,” current Wisconsin athletic director and former head coach Barry Alvarez told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last week. “Our guys don’t flinch when teams come out and they are spread out all over the field.”
In his three years in Madison, Wisconsin, Aranda’s units have ranked seventh in 2013, fourth in 2014 and third this year in total defense.
“This is a great hire for us,” LSU coach Les Miles said in a university news release. “Dave has an outstanding track record of producing some of the best defenses in college football. We’ve seen him up close and understand how difficult it is to have success against him.
“He’s everything that we were looking for in a defensive coordinator. He’s youthful with tremendous enthusiasm; our players are going to love him. He brings great defensive knowledge to our staff both as a technician and as a strategist. We are thrilled that he’s joining us.”
Terms of Aranda’s contract were not disclosed. Aranda made $520,000 at Wisconsin. That was 64th among college football assistants, according to USA Today. Steele made $1 million a year and owes the school a buyout of at least $500,000 for leaving halfway through his two-year contract.
In an added bit of drama to the hire, LSU opens the 2016 season against Wisconsin at Lambeau Field in Green Bay.
The hiring of Aranda came quick. The Tigers had already vetted the former Utah State and Hawaii defensive coordinator. In fact, they had already met with Aranda about the job last year, before hiring Steele.
Aranda was one of six candidates Miles met with in January 2015 when he was looking to replace former defensive coordinator John Chavis after he left for Texas A&M amid a contentious contract dispute.
According to court documents recently obtained by The Advocate, Miles, Dingman and Aranda met Jan. 11 in Chicago. It was the last face-to-face interview Miles conducted before LSU hired Steele two days later.
Despite his departure, a host of Wisconsin players posted positive messages about Aranda on their Twitter accounts Friday night.
“It was a privilege to have Aranda as both a position coach and defensive coordinator,” outside linebacker Jack Cichy posted.
“Best of luck to Coach Aranda. LSU got a hell of a DC tonight,” freshman inside linebacker Nick Thomas wrote.
Wisconsin receiver Reggie Love wished Aranda the best of luck at LSU before tweeting, “It’s still #BeatLSU that ain’t changing!”
Aranda, from just outside of Los Angeles, graduated from California Lutheran in 1999. He began his coaching career at Houston in 2002 before returning to Cal Lutheran as defensive coordinator in 2005.
Aranda went to Delta State in Cleveland, Mississippi, as co-defensive coordinator in 2007. He then coached at Hawaii, becoming defensive coordinator there in 2010. He spent one season as defensive coordinator at Utah State.
In three years as Wisconsin’s defensive coordinator and inside linebackers coach, Aranda coached a defense that combined to rank among the top five in the nation in four major defensive categories.
From 2013-15, Aranda’s defense allowed an average of 289.4 yards per game — which ranks first in the nation over that span. His defense allowed 16.9 points (No. 2 nationally), 179.9 passing yards (No. 3 nationally) and 109.6 rushing yards (No. 4 nationally) over the three years as Wisconsin went a combined 30-10.
LSU beat Wisconsin 28-24 in the teams’ 2014 season opener in NRG Stadium in Houston, site of the Tigers’ 56-27 Texas Bowl win Tuesday night over Texas Tech.
“Dave will bring different packages and an attacking style to the field,” Miles said in the news release. “Watching his defense play, they are tough to move the ball on and they are sticky in every situation. His defenses do a great job of getting off the field.
“He’s going to be a great fit for our personnel. He’s a players’ coach, and we are really excited that he’s going to be a LSU Tiger.”
Aranda and his wife, Dione, have three children.