Baylor was finalizing a deal Thursday to make LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda the new coach of the Bears, according to a person with knowledge of the agreement.
That person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the Big 12 school was not ready to make any official announcement on Matt Rhule’s successor.
Aranda will be a head coach for the first time and take over a Big 12 program that is in much better shape than it was when Rhule got there just over three years ago. Rhule was hired as head coach of the NFL’s Carolina Panthers on Jan. 7.
Aranda, the highest-paid college assistant at $2.5 million a season, was a Power Five defensive coordinator the past seven seasons. He was at Wisconsin from 2013-15 before a four-year span at LSU, capped by a win Monday night in the national championship game against Clemson that gave the top-ranked Tigers a 15-0 record.
The 43-year-old Aranda takes over a team seemingly on the rise. The Bears lost to Georgia in the Sugar Bowl, but finished 11-3 and ranked 13th in the final AP Top 25 poll.
It was a vast improvement from the 11 losses Baylor endured in Rhule’s debut season two years ago, when he arrived from Temple to a depleted roster and turmoil in the wake of the sprawling sexual assault scandal at the private Baptist school that led to the firing of two-time Big 12 champion coach Art Briles.
Aranda began his college coaching career in the Big 12 as a graduate assistant at Texas Tech from 1999-2001, and Briles was an assistant there. He was linebackers coach at Houston from 2003-04 after Briles became head coach there.
Rhule was the Big 12 coach of the year this season, when the Bears played in the league’s championship game for the first time. The Big 12 wasn’t playing championship games when Baylor won conference crowns in 2013 and 2014.
Aranda is the second assistant coach to leave LSU in recent days. Joe Brady, the passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach for the Tigers, will be the offensive coordinator for the Panthers under Rhule.
After Briles was fired, Baylor started 6-0 under interim coach Jim Grobe in 2016 before losing 17 of its next 19 games. That included a six-game losing streak before a Cactus Bowl victory to end Grobe’s stint, and a 1-11 record in Rhule’s debut season.
Baylor improved to 7-6 with a bowl win in 2018, then started 9-0 this season before a 34-31 home loss to Oklahoma, which also beat the Bears in the Big 12 title game.
Baylor athletic director Mack Rhoades last week said Rhule’s time at Baylor “marks one of the greatest turnarounds in college football history.”
New York native Rhule had no Texas ties when he got to Texas. California native Aranda started his coaching career with those five years in Texas before going back to his alma mater, California Luthern, where one of his college roommates was Tom Herman — now the coach at Texas.
There were then stops at Delta State in Mississippi, Southern Utah, Hawaii, Utah State and Wisconsin before Aranda’s four seasons in the Southeastern Conference.
AP College Football Writer Ralph D. Russo contributed to this report.
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