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Crucial Season Quickly Approaches for Dave Aranda at Baylor

crucial season approaches
©Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports

A crucial season quickly approaches for head coach Dave Aranda and the Baylor Bears as the Big 12 Conference takes on a new look with five new members in 2024.

The Bears have struggled with back-to-back losing seasons after winning the Big 12 Championship in 2021 and finishing with a 12-2 record. They won six games and reached the Armed Forces Bowl the following season but ended 2023 with a 3-9 record, second-to-last in the Big 12.

Origins of the Aranda Era

Aranda spent 12 seasons as a collegiate defensive coordinator, most notably contributing to LSU's 2019 National Championship during a four-year stay in Baton Rouge, La. He accepted the Baylor job in January 2020, replacing an NFL-bound Matt Rhule.

Aranda was one of the new coaches who had his debut season during the COVID-shortened year. As with most of the others, those circumstances bought him some leeway. He responded with a conference championship and won the Big 12 Coach of the Year award, but the team has trended downward ever since.

If he wants to stick around as the boss in Waco, there must be much better results on the field in 2024.

New Faces, Adjustments

Aranda knows he may be on borrowed time and the pressure he faces in Year 5. It hasn't greatly influenced his decision-making, but it has led to some changes within the program amid an increased urgency for on-the-field performance.

Renowned offensive coordinator Jake Spavital joins the team as a replacement for Jeff Grimes. Grimes had been Baylor's OC since 2021 and produced a pair of top-10 offenses. However, the unit struggled in 2023— finishing among the Big 12's worst in total yards and rushing and dead last in scoring with just 23.1 points per game.

Baylor Bears
© Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

That performance and regression cost Grimes his job.

Spavital has been one of the top offensive coordinators in the country throughout his career, leading many top-30 units and a few top-10 units. His offenses even earned him a head coaching job at Texas State in 2019.

Last season, Spavital was a crucial part of the resurgence of the Cal Golden Bears, who made a bowl game for the first time since 2019. Cal's offense was among the Pac-12 Conference's best rushing units and averaged 31.6 points per game.

Spavital also has a reputation for developing quarterbacks. Baylor's quarterback play has been inconsistent at best over recent seasons, but he'll get to work with Dequan Finn, an accomplished, dual-threat transfer from Toledo.

Baylor has a history of putting together stellar defenses, but that was not the case last season. The Bears struggled in many of the same areas on defense as they did on offense, ending the year as the Big 12's worst scoring defense, second-worst run defense and third-worst overall defense.

For 2024, Aranda will take over the defensive play-calling duties for the first time since he became the Bears' coach. So far, the players have welcomed the change and praised the shift in philosophy.

Baylor Bears
© Chris Jones-USA TODAY Sports

"I love the scheme that Dave Aranda's bringing as well," safety Carl Williams IV said during the second day of the Big 12 Media Days in Las Vegas. "I feel like we can execute it and it's going to help us win a lot of games. It's fun playing inside that defense. Different people blitzing, different types of disguises to everything. It's fun playing in it and showing disguise. Having one thing and then going to another is pretty cool, in my opinion. I like it."

Commitment to Winning

Aranda told ESPN the changes were made to show a commitment and urgency toward winning, even as other coaches opt for more delegation among their staff members

"I think we need to do it to win," he explained. "I'm at my best when I'm fully invested, and we've got to get it right and it matters. We're here to win, and I think that part of me comes out when I'm in all the details of football. I tried to do it while being removed, and I think I'm one that has to get dirty with all of it. So that's what we're doing."


Some questioned Aranda's recruiting as a coach during his early days, but he has held firm, and Baylor has entered the conversation, and even won, for some big targets. A comment from Aranda on his recruiting success made waves as he told reporters, "We're paying players," clearly referring to the frustrating nature of name, image and likeness (NIL) deals.

Aranda later clarified his comment, noting that he believes Baylor had strong recruiting practices besides the payments, but the monetary value carries much of the weight.

"In the past, this part still holds true," he explained to College Football Dawgs. "I have always felt really strong about our recruiting visits, our official visits, our visits of any kind. Any type of interaction."

"[T]hese are authentic, real people, people that are going to be mentors to my son," he added. "It still is that, but in today's climate, it's not enough."

The transfer portal is now another key element of recruiting, and Baylor welcomes 16 transfer players in hopes of turning around its roster and fortunes on the field.

With Aranda squarely on the hot seat entering the season, it all needs to work. Otherwise, there will be more fans calling for his job.


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