Dave Aranda’s spurning of Texas A&M wasn’t all about money.
It was about a player, too: Devin White.
“I love the players here," the LSU defensive coordinator said Thursday morning on WNXX-FM, 104.5. "I immediately think of the linebacker corps and Devin White and improvements he made, the hunger to be a better player. He’s at the office on Sunday before I even get there. I know he’s going to have a great season.”
Aranda mentioned two other reasons for his decision nearly a month ago to stay in Baton Rouge: his relationship with coach Ed Orgeron and his family. The 41-year-old enters his third season as LSU’s defensive coordinator, and he is “content right now” in that role, he said during the 15-minute interview.
You can listen to the full interview here. Assistants are not normally available to reporters, except for one or two times a year.
The Tigers had to pay big to keep him. A&M coach Jimbo Fisher made multiple attempts at hiring Aranda during the week of LSU’s Citrus Bowl game and the week afterward, and the coach seriously flirted with leaving — as evidenced by the significant contract boost he received.
Aranda will make $2.5 million per year in a new four-year deal he signed, making him the first college football coordinator to eclipse the $2 million mark.
Aranda did not mention his new contract while discussing reasons he stayed, but he did discuss an array of topics — including that last-minute loss in the Citrus Bowl to Notre Dame, LSU’s offseason focus, Steve Ensminger’s promotion to offensive coordinator and the defense's biggest struggle in 2017.
Aranda sidestepped a question when asked about his future aspirations in coaching, perhaps as a head coach or an NFL defensive coordinator.
"I’m content right now. The thing to me is, I want to win," he said. "I really feel being at LSU for two years and just seeing all of the fans' involvement and all the work and what coach (Tommy) Moffitt puts our guys through and the whole thing to get to Saturday night, we need to win."
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Aranda's new $10 million contract includes language that lets him out of the deal to join an NFL staff.
Known as a stickler, Aranda spent much of the interview bemoaning what he said what his unit's biggest struggle in 2017: the red zone.
LSU ranked 64th nationally in allowing their opponents to score 83.3 percent of the time once inside the 20-yard line. The Tigers gave up touchdowns 52.7 percent of the time, ranking 29th nationally and not good enough for the coach.
“We’d give up a big play or long drive, and I thought there were too many walk-ins. I’m wondering, 'Should we take a timeout?' I could sense our body language wasn’t what you’d want and guys are walking into the end zone,” Aranda said.
“(In 2016), once they got into the red area, I remember Kendell Beckwith going around and saying, ‘(They're) not going to score.’ People would drive and not score. This year was almost the opposite.”
The Notre Dame loss — the Irish won 21-17 on a 55-yard completion with 88 seconds left — accentuated the year-long struggles and resulted in an emotional locker room, the coach said.
“They were heartbroken. A lot of crying going on. A lot of guys broken down. We worked really hard to get that thing right,” Aranda said. “Right after that game ended, offensively, the drive and whole thing ... and (former defensive line coach) Pete Jenkins is looking like he just saw a ghost. I said to coach, ‘This is us.’ That’s what I said to him. That was us.”
The red zone struggles have morphed into an offseason mantra, Aranda said: “Finish it.”
“Whatever the workout is, finish it. Whatever the assignment, finish it,” he said.
A seven-win regular season and a midseason head coach firing in 2016 did not hurt LSU football’s massive profit margin.
Aranda called Ensminger “crafty.” Ensminger replaces Matt Canada in leading LSU’s offense, a unit that’s expected to morph into a West Coast-style attack with a group of talented receivers and sophomore quarterback Myles Brennan, the favorite to win the starting job.
“I remember when I first got here,” Aranda said. “First game was Wisconsin. I’d be pulled into offensive staff meetings. I always singled out Steve. When he’d talk, it was always well thought-out. I’d go, ‘That’s right.’
“He’d see things and he’d give really good suggestions,” Aranda continued. “I knew who was in that meeting, but I didn’t know backgrounds. But hearing him talk and the way his mind worked, I singled him out.”
Aranda singled out White when asked about spurning A&M’s advances, but he mentioned several others. He and the junior linebacker have a close relationship on and off the field.
The only other linebacker he mentioned by name was Patrick Queen, a Livonia Hugh graduate who played sparingly last season as a true freshman. He said Queen is “one of the most improved guys we've got.”
“I know they’re going to play well and know we’re going to be improved,” Aranda said of the linebackers. “You can take that thought and apply it up front — (defensive linemen) Breiden Fehoko and Rashard Lawrence. Safeties coming back (and) Greedy (Williams) with another year. I feel like we’re going to be a good defense. I want to be a part of that.”
He then mentioned Orgeron.
“Being able to coach for Coach O, so much respect for him. The way he treats us as coaches and how he treats the players. I know the players love playing for him. They want to win for him, want to work hard for him,” Aranda said. “He talks really openly about where we’re at and what we’ve got to do to be better. Players gravitate to that. I feel good about the direction.”
A third reason, he said, is his family. Aranda and his wife, Dione, have two daughters, Jaelyn and Jordyn, and a son, Ronin.
“My wife and kids, they do love it here,” he said. “We’re having people over for the Super Bowl. My wife is planning this and planning that, the friends we’ve had. It’s something we’re blessed to be around and have.”
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