WACO — The first two months of 2020 were a whirlwind for Dave Aranda.
Three days after LSU beat Clemson for the national championship, the Tigers’ fourth-year defensive coordinator accepted his first head coaching job at Baylor.
During the following weeks, Aranda pieced together his staff with a blend of experienced coaches and younger ones, offensive and defensive analysts he worked with at LSU, holdovers from Matt Rhule’s staff, and guys looking for their break to coach in a Power Five conference.
When he hired offensive coordinator Larry Fedora and defensive coordinator Ron Roberts, both brought immeasurable bonuses to his staff. Both had been college head coaches for more than a decade.
For a first-time college head coach, that’s a lot of experience to lean on. Roberts knows Aranda well enough to understand that he will listen to his assistant coaches before making any important decisions in his program.
“He has a very cerebral approach to everything, and the best thing about him is he is not going to make rash decisions, he’s not going to make rash judgments,” Roberts said. “He is going to get all of the information he can get to make sure he is doing the right thing. I mean obviously there are some things that we will be able to offer another idea of how to do it or how not to do it. So we can hopefully offer some ideas.”
Roberts has a longer connection to Aranda than anybody on Baylor’s staff since he hired him as a 30-year-old co-defensive coordinator after he accepted his first college head coaching job at Delta State prior to the 2007 season. Aranda only coached at Delta State for one season before becoming defensive coordinator at Southern Utah, but he helped get the program off to a promising start.
During his five seasons at Delta State, Roberts made four NCAA Division II playoff appearances, including a run to the 2010 national championship game. Roberts followed with a six-year stint at Southeastern Louisiana where he made two NCAA Division I playoff appearances before serving the last two years as defensive coordinator at Louisiana-Lafayette. His 89-45 college head coaching record is impressive.
“Ron Roberts is a mentor to me,” Aranda said. “A lot of the defensive principles and concepts that I have used in my career, I learned from Ron. I’m so excited that he’s here. He’s going to be a great developer of young men and he will be able to get our defense to the highest level.”
Likewise, Fedora experienced considerable head coaching success during his four seasons at Southern Mississippi that led to a seven-year coaching reign at North Carolina.
During his 11 years as head coach, Fedora went 79-62 and made eight bowl appearances. The A&M Consolidated graduate’s most impressive season came in 2015 when the Tar Heels won a school-record 11 games in the regular season and made an appearance in the ACC title game after winning the Coastal Division.
Fedora was fired after the Tar Heels went 1-7 in the ACC in 2018, but the College Station native familiarized himself with the Big 12 when he served last season as an offensive analyst at Texas.
Aranda was excited that he could land a coach with Fedora’s head coaching experience and skill for developing dynamic offenses.
“He is a great motivator and a former head coach that I will rely on for advice,” Aranda said. “Larry has a track record of explosive, prolific offenses. He will do a great job of spreading the ball around and making the defense have to defend every blade of grass.”
This is Fedora’s second tour of duty as a Baylor assistant after getting his feet wet as a young coach under Grant Teaff and Chuck Reedy in the 1990s. Now 57, Fedora is coming back with a ton of experience that Aranda will benefit from.
“I had always seen Coach Aranda from afar and respected what he’s done as a defensive coordinator,” Fedora said. “He’s obviously one of the brightest minds out there as far as what he does defensively. I thought it would be an ideal situation as an offensive coordinator to match up with a guy like that.”
From personnel issues to recruiting to administrative demands, Fedora quickly learned there’s a plethora of challenges that go with overseeing a program, and wants to help Aranda work through them.
“I hope there are some experiences that he might have in the future that I’m able to help him with because I’ve already experienced them,” Fedora said.
The same goes for the 52-year-old Roberts, who found that sitting in the head coaching chair carries a much broader scope than being a coordinator.
“Everybody is counting on you,” Roberts said. “He has probably made more decisions in the last month than he has made in the last 10 years. Every day there are 40 decisions that have got to be made in this program whether that’s nutrition, academics, and then football. I think in some ways we are a sounding board.”