BATON ROUGE, La. -- Les Miles said Dave Aranda was the “absolute star” among the candidates he interviewed to become LSU’s defensive coordinator a year ago -- a position that ultimately went to Kevin Steele.
When SEC veteran Steele left after one season to take the same position at Auburn, Aranda quickly became the central figure in Miles’ coaching search.
“We had an exhaustive search a year ago and we interviewed a ton of people, Dave being one, and we felt like he was the knowledge base, the direction that we wanted to go and the style of coach that we wanted,” Miles said Tuesday morning at a press conference introducing Aranda as his newest assistant. “The difference was that Kevin knew the conference well. So as soon as we knew that Kevin was gone, there was no other choice.”
Aranda, 38, was overwhelmingly successful in his three-year stint as Wisconsin’s defensive coordinator. Between 2013 and 2015, Wisconsin ranked first in the FBS in total defense (289.4 ypg), second in scoring defense (17.03 ppg), third against the pass (180.9 ypg) fourth against the run (108.5 ypg) and fourth in yards per play (4.69).
Known for deploying exotic defensive fronts and coverages that can confuse opposing offenses, Aranda described his philosophy as “smart aggression.”
“Find your best players, get them matched up on their worst players and do it over and over and over again,” Aranda said.
His departure from Madison will make for an interesting storyline early in the 2016 season, as LSU and Wisconsin will meet in the Sept. 3 season opener at the Green Bay Packers’ Lambeau Field.
“At Lambeau’s going to be interesting,” Miles said with a grin. “There was a very quality player for Wisconsin that said, ‘So you took Coach A from us? I guess it’s on at Lambeau,’ which I certainly felt like that was the spirit of sport that was being shared there.”
Miles credited LSU athletic director Joe Alleva for providing the resources to hire Aranda, whose name arose for multiple coordinator openings this offseason. Two days after Wisconsin completed its season, Aranda agreed to a three-year deal to join Miles’ staff with a reported starting salary of $1.3 million.
“When this defensive coordinator position came open, my conversations with coach Miles were very simple, and that was to go out and get the very best that we could get to come here to LSU,” Alleva said. “And in my opinion, we’ve done that. We brought in a young guy with tremendous energy, passion, tremendously bright that will guide our defense to help us compete for championships.”
Aranda said it is still to be determined whether he coaches a specific position -- he also coached inside linebackers at Wisconsin -- or whether he coaches from the field or from the press box on game days.
In both cases, he said it will be about finding the dynamic that works best within his new coaching staff.
“It’s whatever fits best for the staff. I’ve been up and I’ve been down,” Aranda said of coaching from the sideline. “Past couple years, I’ve been down, but it’s per those staffs because that was the best fit.”
LSU has three defensive assistants -- linebackers and special teams coach Bradley Dale Peveto, defensive line coach Ed Orgeron and defensive backs coach Corey Raymond -- in addition to Aranda. Raymond and Orgeron have reportedly received interest from other schools in recent weeks, and Miles said “we want both of those guys to be here and have talked to both of those guys about being here.”
Miles said he does not expect any changes to his offensive coaching staff and said he is working to complete a new contract for offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.
What remains unsettled is the personnel that will be available to Aranda in his first season in the SEC. He said Tuesday he had already made “overtures” to draft-eligible underclassmen like cornerback Tre’Davious White and linebacker Kendell Beckwith to discuss their impending NFL decisions.
While neither player has publicly announced anything, Miles said it would benefit both of them to play in Aranda’s system should they decide to remain for their senior seasons.
“A guy like Tre’Davious White, I think the style of defense, wanting to continue to teach walk up on you [at] corner and play man coverage is just what he needs, and what he needs to do for the next year if he were staying,” Miles said. “I think the aggressiveness that he speaks to about linebacker play and Kendell Beckwith, I think, again, that’s the style.
“This is a guy that’s trained some of the best linebackers in the conference that he was in and has brought a defense that will really look to maximize the linebacker position. So I think it’s a knowledge base that Kendell will enjoy,” Miles continued. “I don’t know how it will affect it overall, but I can tell you that both guys should consider the fact that decision is one that will advance us in terms of scheme and technique.”
That was clear to LSU’s head coach after his team faced Wisconsin to open the 2014 season, when LSU rallied from a 24-7 deficit to win 28-24. The Badgers were the most difficult defense to scheme against of any 2014 opponent, Miles said, and that was a motivating factor in hiring Aranda when he got a second chance to do so.
“Anybody that’s difficult to move the football against as he was, offensively we’ll find something to do with the ball when he returns it to us,” Miles said.