WACO, Texas >> Dave Aranda sensed something special about Baylor even before the Bears were looking for a new head coach.
“I could see the togetherness of the team, I could see the toughness of the team,” said Aranda, who as national champion LSU’s defensive coordinator saw Baylor on film when the Tigers were preparing last month to play Oklahoma.
Aranda was formally introduced as Baylor’s coach today, four days after being hired as a first-time head coach and a week after LSU capped a 15-0 season with a win over Clemson.
“When this job came open, I said this is in my heart, this is me,” he said. “I feel like this is God talking to me.”
Athletic director Mack Rhoades said Aranda was the first choice and the only person offered the job after Matt Rhule was hired Jan. 7 as head coach of the NFL’s Carolina Panthers.
Rhule took Baylor from a 1-11 record in his 2017 debut season to 11 wins this season, when the Bears finished 13th in the final Associated Press Top 25 poll after playing in the Big 12 championship game and the Sugar Bowl.
Aranda takes over a much different Baylor program than Rhule, who arrived from Temple to a depleted roster and turmoil in the wake of the sprawling sexual assault scandal at the private Baptist school led to the firing in May 2016 of two-time Big 12 champion coach Art Briles.
The NCAA still hasn’t issued any rulings on its investigation in the case, and there could still be penalties. Aranda said Rhoades and Baylor officials have been transparent with him about where the situation stands, and he is comfortable with where things are.
The 43-year-old Aranda was a Power Five defensive coordinator the past seven seasons. He was at Wisconsin from 2013-15 before spending the past four years at LSU.
His coaching career started as a graduate assistant at Texas Tech from 2000-02, and he then spent two years as linebackers coach at Houston. He was on the University of Hawaii coaching staff from 2008 to 2011.