Nobody can blame Dave Aranda. After turning Wisconsin’s “bend-but-don’t-break” 4-3 defense into a feared 3-4 scheme, it was a more so question of when, not if, Aranda was going to leave.
That news came Friday night, two days after Wisconsin’s defense stymied USC’s vaunted offensive attack in the Badgers’ 23-21 victory in the Holiday Bowl, that Aranda had accepted the defensive coordinator position on Les Miles’ LSU staff. The deal is a reported three year guaranteed contact that will pay him an annual base s $1.3 million annual base salary.
“It was a tough call to make with (Wisconsin Coach Paul Chryst),” Aranda told the Advocate. “I appreciate him so much. That first game, going against him, that’s going to be a big challenge. He’s a great coach. He’s a great tactician, great strategist. He’s very, very sharp. But he’s even a better person.
“So, to say that I was leaving, as much I was exciting for the opportunity at LSU and the excitement to coach in the SEC and for my family to move down South … it was still hard to say I’m leaving.”
The move brings up interesting options for Chryst. UW has been building its 3-4 scheme the past three seasons with the young players in the program and its recruitment of linebackers. However, Chryst’s history has been with the 4-3 during his previous stops at Wisconsin and Pittsburgh.
With the job opening expected to be posted Monday, here are some of the candidates who could emerge. Note: Nick Saban is not under consideration.
Coaching Stops: Houston defensive coordinator/safeties (2015-present), Utah State defensive coordinator/safeties (2013-14), Florida International defensive coordinator (2011-12), Connecticut defensive coordinator/inside linebackers (2005-10), Connecticut inside linebackers (1999-04), Pennsylvania linebackers (1996-98).
Why Orlando: A name that has popped up frequently over the last 48 hours is Orlando, who has 20 years of experience and is coming off a tremendous first season in Houston on former Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman’s first staff. Houston finished eighth in rush defense (108.9 ypg), 21st in scoring defense (20.7 ppg), 53rd in total defense (383.6) and went 13-1 this past season, capping its season with a 38-24 win in the Peach Bowl over No.9 Florida State. They forced five turnovers, including four interceptions, and limited the Seminoles to 16 rushing yards on 23 attempts.
Orlando replaced Aranda after he left for Wisconsin with Gary Andersen and continued building Aranda’s 3-4 base defense scheme. Utah State finished 13th in total defense in 2014 – one spot ahead of Wisconsin. In Orlando's two seasons as Utah State's defensive coordinator, the Aggies ranked 12th nationally in 2014 at 19.7 points per game and seventh nationally in 2013 at 17.1. His squads forced 59 turnovers over the two seasons, including 30 in 2014 (10th-best in the FBS).
Throw in the fact that Orlando played linebacker for Barry Alvarez from 1990-94 and is good friends with UW offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph, this move makes a lot of sense for Orlando’s climb up the coaching ladder.
Why Not: Orlando makes roughly $501,000 annually at Houston, roughly $19K less than what Aranda was making. There’s also the thought that Orlando would not up and leave after one season in Houston, especially when the Cougars are strongly trending upward.
Coaching Stops: Wisconsin OLBs (2015), Northwestern defensive consultant (2014), Chicago Bears LBs (2013), Purdue defensive coordinator (2012), Montreal Alouettes defensive coordinator (2011), Montreal Alouettes linebackers (2009-10), Kansas State defensive coordinator (2007-08), North Dakota defensive coordinator (2004-05).
Why Tibesar: Promoting in-house makes sense for Chryst. Not only would that coach be familiar with the unit’s strengths and weaknesses, Wisconsin has built something special with the 3-4 defense and switching schemes might not be the ideal move considering the personnel. Tibesar is the only defensive coach that has experience as a defensive coordinator, having done it for six seasons at four different stops. His best year was at Purdue when the Boilermakers led the Big Ten in interceptions, forced fumbles and takeaways.
In his first season at Wisconsin, Tibesar helped outside linebackers Vince Biegel and Joe Schobert become one of the best duos in the nation, as they tallied 33.5 tackles for loss and 17.5 sacks this season. Converted tight end T.J. Watt also quickly developed after being switched to OLB in fall camp, as his playing time increase through the season in various subpackages.
Why Not: Tibesar’s defense haven’t generated great numbers. In three years at the FBS level, Tibesar’s defense gave up at least 30 points and 400 yards per game. In 2008, Kansas State finished 111th in the country in points and yards allowed. A source also indicated that Tibesar struggled relating to players during his stint with the Bears, part of the reason he was dismissed.
OTHER POTENTIAL OPTIONS
Coaching Stops: Florida International defensive coordinator (2015), Pittsburgh defensive coordinator (2013-14), Pittsburgh safeties (2012), St. Louis Rams quality control (2009-11), Carolina Panthers special teams assistant (2008), Buffalo defensive backs (2006-07).
Why House: Chryst made House a member of his first staff at Pitt, promoted him in 2013 and was likely going to bring him to Wisconsin if not for Aranda staying. House's defenses were decent during transitional years at Pittsburgh, ranking in the top third nationally in yards allowed per game in both 2013 and 2014.
Why Not: House’s expertise is the 4-3 defense, so there will be a transition period at Wisconsin that could cause some headaches. This past season, Florida International finished 76th in yards allowed (406.1 yards per game) and 85th in points allowed (29.8). Whether those numbers were personnel driven or not, it doesn’t look pretty.
Coaching Stops: North Carolina State defensive coordinator/linebackers (2013-present), Pittsburgh defensive coordinator (2012), Wisconsin linebackers (2011), UCF defensive coordinator (2008-10), UCF linebackers/special teams coach (2004-07), North Carolina defensive coordinator/linebacker (2002), North Carolina linebackers/special teams (2001), Oklahoma State linebackers/special teams (2000), East Carolina defensive line (1999), East Carolina linebackers (1998), Georgia Tech defensive coordinator/linebackers (1996-97), Georgia Tech linebackers (1995), East Carolina linebackers/special teams (1990-91), Western Kentucky defensive coordinator (1989), Western Kentucky linebackers (1985-88), Independence (KS) CC defensive coordinator (1983-84)
Why Huxtable: Look above: Huxtable brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the table. In his one season at Wisconsin, Huxtable helped coach Mike Taylor and Chris Borland to a combined 193 tackles, 28 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, four interceptions, 12 pass deflections and eight forced fumbles. Chryst was so impressed with Huxtable that he hired him for his first staff at Pitt to run the defense in 2012.
Why Not: N.C. State’s defense ranked No. 29 in total defense and allowed 350.7 yards per game, better than the 373.1 yards it gave up last season, but that was in part due to a laughable nonconference schedule. In ACC play, N.C. State allowed 395.9 yards and 29.6 points per game and were crushed by the better teams on their schedule (623 total yards to Clemson, 553 to North Carolina and 569 to Mississippi State). Like House, this would likely transition into a 4-3 scheme.