Commentary: Hire Dave Aranda because he’s right for USC. Not because he beat Oklahoma
Surely the juxtaposition of the day’s most impressive win and most shocking defeat was not lost on USC’s Heritage Hall brain trust.
Texas lost to Kansas 57-56.
Forget for the purpose of this exercise that the Longhorns are led by former USC head coach Steve Sarkisian, because emotions should not be involved and it’s always emotional with Sark.
Last offseason, Texas spent $24 million to fire Tom Herman, who was the hottest coaching name on the market in 2016. It did this confidently because the school already knew who it wanted next — the hottest coach on the market in 2020.
Eighth-ranked Oklahoma’s College Football Playoff hopes likely ended with a 27-14 loss at No. 13 Baylor, while No. 3 Oregon beat Washington State 38-24.
Texas would agree to pay this new coach $5.2 million per year after he guided the Alabama offense to the next level within the buttress of a dynasty that hummed along right through a global pandemic to another national championship.
So far, Texas has spent more than $30 million to start 4-6, lose five games in a row and collapse in humiliating fashion at home to Kansas, which had not won a Big 12 road game since 2008. That’s 13 years! (A brief aside: I would know, I covered that Jayhawks team for the Kansas City Star).
Since Mack Brown’s resignation, Texas has hired three consecutive coaches — Charlie Strong, Herman and Sark — who were Q-rating superstars at the time of the hire. That’s the way Texas rolls, and, to be fair, we should not make the mistake of judging the success of any hire after one year. But there is way more reason to doubt than believe watching Texas’ four- and five-star recruits give up 57 points to Kansas, which has one four-star on its roster and was averaging 15 points per game coming in.
Dave Aranda honed his defensive schemes and team-first philosophy at Redlands High, never losing focus on learning. His success could lead him to USC.
Meanwhile, Baylor rebuilt its program after a rape cover-up scandal and the firing of Art Briles by hiring Matt Rhule from Temple. When Rhule left for the Carolina Panthers, the school hired Dave Aranda, the wildly successful Louisiana State defensive coordinator who had never been a head coach before and did not bring the traditional temperament for the position.
It took Rhule just two years to get Baylor from 1-11 to 11-3, but the Bears did not win the Big 12 in 2019, losing twice to Oklahoma. Aranda took over and struggled during the 2020 pandemic season, going 2-7 in his rookie campaign as a leading man, but needed just one year to get Baylor back to the top 15 and knock out the Sooners in convincing fashion Saturday.
Aranda’s defense held Lincoln Riley’s vaunted offense to 260 total yards, its lowest output since 2014. After the game, Riley expressed disdain for Aranda electing to kick a field goal as time expired with the game out of reach, a move that Aranda explained was due to point differential being a part of the Big 12’s tiebreak procedures. That actually makes good sense and reflects well on Aranda’s attention to detail; Riley was probably just sore that he couldn’t solve Aranda’s defense.
Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell and USC might not be an obvious match, but if Mike Bohn calls again, Fickell has a rare chance to lead a blue-blood program.
I wrote about Aranda, a potential USC coaching candidate and quiet defensive savant who cut his teeth coaching at Redlands High and Division III California Lutheran. His popularity among Trojans fans will only grow after Saturday, particularly as there are legitimate doubts about the willingness of Cincinnati’s Luke Fickell and Iowa State’s Matt Campbell to uproot their families from the Midwest and move to Los Angeles.
But the takeaway from Saturday shouldn’t be that USC athletic director Mike Bohn must hire Aranda because he isn’t a hot name like Sarkisian was last year. Heck, at this point, with his own Q-rating soaring by the week, Aranda carries a real risk of recency bias. His sample size as a head coach is very limited, and there is likely a hefty buyout to pry him from the Bears that may be a consideration.
Bohn has to trust the process he and chief of staff Brandon Sosna have put in place for evaluating candidates and not be swayed by public opinion or the whims of any given Saturday’s results.
Dave Aranda is the same coach today as he was yesterday. Hire him because he’s the right guy for the job, not because he’s now an easier sell for the fan base.
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