There's an old unwritten rule that says you don't get to pick your own nickname.

That right is reserved for those who know you best, and, flattering or not, the nickname that sticks will more often than not be accurate and suitable.

Just who came up with "The Professor" for LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda?

It's uncertain.

The nickname picked up steam during his three seasons at Wisconsin, and it's come to personify the fourth-year LSU defensive guru who remains the nation's highest-paid assistant coach at $2.5 million per year.

What about before that?

What about when Aranda was still an up-and-coming 36-year-old at Utah State, the relatively unknown defensive coordinator who was still a year away from his big break at a big-time program?

In Aranda's one season managing Utah State's defense in 2012, no one officially called him "The Professor." At least not Kevin Clune and Kendrick Shaver, two of Aranda's former assistant coaches who worked at Utah State that year.

No, back then Aranda was just Dave — an unconventionally soft-spoken football coach who was always studying film, experimenting with new plays and opening up discussions in meetings to the people in the back of the room.

Those who knew Aranda best naturally found the most accurate and suitable way to describe him.

"He was kind of like an old college professor," said Shaver, who coached cornerbacks at Utah State and is now the safeties coach at Washington State. "Like a history professor in college, man. You could just go in there and listen to him all day, and he just had a wealth of knowledge for you."

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Aranda was behind the defensive turnaround at Utah State that helped the program receive its first Top 25 ranking in the AP poll since 1961.

The Aggies went 11-2 in 2012 and won their first bowl game in nearly 20 years, bolstered by an improved defense that jumped from the nation's 68th scoring in 2011 (27.9 points allowed per game) to the nation's seventh-best in 2012 (15.4).

Six defensive players made it to the NFL. Two were drafted.

And when Utah State's head coach Gary Andersen was hired to replace Bret Bielema at Wisconsin in 2013, he brought Aranda along with him.

Now, Andersen, back for a second stint at Utah State, meets Aranda again by facing the school that lured his defensive sage away from Wisconsin in 2015, when No. 5 LSU (4-0) hosts Utah State (3-1) at 11 a.m Saturday at Tiger Stadium.

Andersen is facing two other former assistants.

LSU safeties coach Bill Busch was part of Andersen's full tenures at Utah State and Wisconsin, serving at different times as defensive coordinator, safeties coach and special teams coordinator.

Utah State: Bill Busch

LSU's Bill Busch (middle) was the defensive coordinator at Utah State from 2009-2010, and the program's associate head coach/safeties coach/special teams coordinator from 2011 to 2012.

Corey Raymond, LSU's long-time defensive backs coach, got his first college position coaching job on Andersen's staff as the cornerbacks coach at Utah State from 2009 to 2010.

"(They) really got a good, fresh start here that catapulted them to where they are today," Andersen said Monday, "which is awesome to see."

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Indeed, that 2012 season can be considered Aranda's breakout year; he was nominated for the Broyles Award, given annually to college football's top assistant coach.

And Utah State was truly a fresh start.

Just as Aranda's nickname hadn't yet taken hold, neither had his surname developed into one that any head coach looked up first when constructing a staff.

Perhaps you've heard how Aranda spent two weeks in December 2011 just sitting around his apartment, making pots of coffee all day because he had nothing better to do, having just been fired along with the rest of the Hawaii staff after former head coach Greg McMackin resigned under pressure after a 6-7 season.

The Warriors had lost four of their last five games in the 2011 season, including a 35-31 loss to Utah State in which the Aggies hung 433 total yards on Aranda's defense and scored 21 straight unanswered points in a second-half comeback.

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So why was Aranda the answer for Utah State?

Well, the Aggies had defensive issues of their own.

The program had been winning games with a potent offense, which ranked 23rd nationally with 33.6 points per game in 2011.

Busch was Utah State's defensive coordinator in 2010, but after the defense gave up 33.8 points per game (101st nationally), Busch shifted to coaching safeties and special teams.

Utah State didn't have a listed defensive coordinator in the 2011 season — not an ideal situation for any college football team. And after Andersen split defensive play-calling with the rest of the staff, he went searching for a full-time coordinator with a fresh perspective.

"He wanted somebody totally different, outside of his tree," Shaver said.

Andersen began asking people close to him for references, and he'd known Hawaii's McMackin, a former defensive coordinator at Utah, for some time.

McMackin told Andersen: "Gary, there is one guy you need to hire, and it's Dave Aranda"

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The deciding factor came down to scheme.

Andersen was shifting Utah State's defense from a four-man front to a three-man front. The Aggies' personnel demanded the change, Shaver said, because it's tough at that level to obtain enough true defensive linemen to run a 4-3 defense.

Utah State had a high supply of linebackers and Aranda, although he had run a four-man front at Hawaii, was innovating his defenses with something he called "simulated pressure."

Aranda was concocting pressure in opposing backfields by creating favorable matchups between his defenders and the offensive blockers, and he believed the system could be even more successful if an extra skill player was used on the field instead of another lineman.

"We had an idea of what we wanted to do," said Clune, a former linebackers coach at Utah State who now coaches the same position at Memphis. "We were turning the corner, and with Dave coming in, he put his fingerprint on it, and we took the next step."

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The system flourished in the final season of the Western Athletic Conference — a league that was jam-packed with teams that had completely different offensive ideologies.

Air Force ran the flexbone triple option. Boise State had a pro-style, power run game. Hawaii used the run-and-shoot.

The entire conference schedule was a crash course on week-to-week adjustments, and Aranda tinkered with his defensive alignments until he got the matchups he wanted.

"He wanted to show a different pressure," Shaver said. "Get them guys to check their protection and bring it a different way. So, basically a cat and mouse game with the offensive line."

Sound familiar?

It's the same schemes Aranda still use in Baton Rouge.

Last season, Aranda arranged defenders like chess pieces to create a hole for former All-American linebacker Devin White, who became LSU's first Butkus Award winner for nation's top linebacker.

This year, he's done the same with pass rusher K'Lavon Chaisson, stunting the outside linebacker inside the line of scrimmage to break free on the quarterback.

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Those ideas set records at Utah State.

The Aggies recorded 42 sacks in 2012, tied for seventh nationally, and the defense set a school record with 13 sacks in a 49-27 win over San Jose State — a team that eventually went 11-2, the school's best record in history, and finished No. 21 in the AP polls with future NFL quarterback David Fales.

"It was just basically off a couple simple creepers coming from simple places," Clune said. "It was those 'backers and how we were going to bring this guy, bring that guy on different downs."

Why did everything function so well defensively at Utah State?

Part of it was personality. Or rather, the neutralizing of personality.

Aranda wasn't the typical rah-rah coach, Shaver said. He was a quiet leader who sat thoughtfully in meetings, read the room and took everything in. When the attention would shift Aranda's way, sometimes he'd just squint his eyes and think silently for a moment, studying.

"And, you know, in this coaching profession, there are a lot of egos," Shaver said. "He can bring guys together. He can cool all the egos, because he will listen to the lowest man in the room. From a (graduate assistant) to a volunteer, he will listen to you and give you the floor. I thought that was just cool as all get-out."

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Aranda's thoughtful, studying mind never turned off, either.

That's what professors do, right?

Every time Shaver would walk in Aranda's office, he had NFL playbooks splayed across his desk and tape running of some NFL team, usually the Baltimore Ravens.

Aranda constantly drew up plays and consulted the other Utah State coaches.

Sometimes, Clune said, a play would be so radical, he'd have to say, "Hey this is great, but if you're going to try this, we have to axe this and that, because we can't run all three of these different things."

Logan, Utah, a small town in the northeastern part of the state, didn't offer much of a distraction — as if anything could.

"We'll be at a social, maybe a head coach's house, chilling in the summer," Shaver said. "He's going to have a pen or pad and electronic device and he's going to try and draw up a play and ask you what you think of the defense. I'm like, 'C'mon Dave, let's just cool out!'"

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Aranda's a genuine coach, Clune said, a personality that hasn't changed even as his exposure, opportunity and salary skyrocketed over the next seven years.

Shaver and Clune still receive calls from Aranda to discuss defenses and test theories.

"I came out and visited him about two springs ago when I first got to Wazzu, just to hang out in the spring with him," Shaver said. "He's that same guy, no matter what. He'll still answer phone calls. He'll still call you back. That's what I like about him."

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Email Brooks Kubena at bkubena@theadvocate.com.