Arizona hires UCLA assistant coach Johnny Nansen as its defensive coordinator

Chase Garbers is sacked by UCLA football players.
Cal quarterback Chase Garbers is sacked by UCLA defenders. Bruins assistant Johnny Nansen will become Arizona’s defensive coordinator.
(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

The path to becoming Arizona’s defensive coordinator is increasingly going through Westwood.

For the second time since 2019, the Wildcats have nabbed a UCLA defensive position coach to become their defensive coordinator, this time picking defensive line coach Johnny Nansen. Arizona had previously hired Bruins secondary coach Paul Rhoads to be its defensive coordinator in late 2019 in a move that lasted one season before the dismissal of coach Kevin Sumlin and his staff.

In his two seasons at UCLA, Nansen helped the team pile up some big recruiting wins, including landing defensive lineman Jay Toia as a transfer from USC after Toia had been committed to the Trojans when Nansen coached USC’s inside linebackers. Nansen also helped the Bruins land defensive linemen Quintin Somerville and Tiaoalii Savea, who were four-star high school prospects.


UCLA’s rushing defense dramatically improved under Nansen, allowing a Pac-12-best 3.6 yards per carry in 2020, and ranking fourth in the conference by giving up 3.76 yards per carry in 2021. The Bruins also led the conference with 3.29 sacks per game in 2020 before ranking second with 2.17 sacks per game in 2021.

Nansen replaces Don Brown, who took the same position at Massachusetts after one season as the Wildcats’ defensive coordinator under Jedd Fisch.

UCLA coach Chip Kelly will probably return in 2022 with a contract extension after the Bruins’ strong finish to the regular season.

Nov. 28, 2021