Dave Aranda’s first look at Baylor came as a graduate assistant coach at Texas Tech 20 years ago.
But, it was because of his older daughter Jaelyn’s interest that he started taking a closer look at the University that hired him as its head football coach in January.
“When this job became available, I thought about family right away,” said the 43-year-old Aranda, who also has a younger daughter Jordyn and a son Ronin. “Jaelyn had Baylor as a school to look at, as a school that was a favorite of hers, where she wanted to go to school. And I remember that was when I first started to look at Baylor.”
What he found was a school with a strong Christian mission and small classes, where education is important and “people care.”
“People valued Baylor University and the sports programs,” he said. “I could see that they were winning at a big stage, at a high level, and they were doing it the right way. You could see that, starting with Jaelyn.”
During the coaching search, Baylor Vice President and Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Mack B. Rhoades IV said he “kept going back” to Aranda. One of the final selling points was the house visit with Aranda, the three children and Dave’s wife Dione.
“Dione, thank you for letting six strangers hang out in your house for five hours,” Rhoades said. “Dione served us jambalaya and gumbo and King Cake, and we knew we had hired the right person.”
While growing up in Redlands, California, Aranda started dating Dione during their sophomore year at Redlands High School.
“I was the linebacker, and she was the cheerleader,” Aranda said. “And those that meet her, she’s still 100 percent a cheerleader.”
Aranda said he “would not be here” without his wife and what she gives to their family.
“(She is the) ultimate coach’s wife, the effort and the energy you put into our family,” he said. “I’m so proud of my three kids. I think everyone that meets them, they come and they talk about the great hearts they have and how they’re able to look them in the eye and talk to them.”
Since they had enjoyed their previous time in Texas — he was at Texas Tech for three years and two as the linebackers coach at the University of Houston — Aranda said the family is excited about getting back in Texas. They spent the last four years in Louisiana, where he was the defensive coordinator at LSU.
“To be able to set foot in Waco and grow roots and have our girls enjoy high school and have Ronin come up through the ranks is something that me and my family look forward to very much,” he said. “I think if we can have half the success that [Baylor alumni] Chip and Joanna Gaines have had in Waco, we’ll be all right.”
Within the first days, Aranda added former Delta State and Southeastern Louisiana head coach Ron Roberts to his staff as defensive coordinator.
Roberts, who hired Aranda as defensive coordinator at Division II Delta State in 2007, is a longtime mentor for Aranda. After 10 years as a head coach, Roberts spent the last two seasons as the defensive coordinator at Louisiana-Lafayette.
“A lot of the defensive principles and concepts that I have used in my career, I learned from Ron,” Aranda said. “The defense he is going to run here is an attacking one that dictates to the offense. 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.”
“I have always valued my relationship with coach Aranda, and I look forward to the opportunity to work side-by-side with him,” Roberts said.
In four years as LSU’s defensive coordinator, Aranda said he “learned more from (Ed Orgeron) than any coach I had been around.”
“History of hardships, learning from those hardships, applying lessons learned, having success and then sharing it with a group of men,” Aranda said of Orgeron, who led the Tigers to a 15-0 season and national championship, “there isn’t a better story than that. I’m so blessed to be a part of that. And I thank Coach O for that.”
The 43-year-old Aranda counts Orgeron as one of his best mentors in a coaching career that began 25 years ago as an 18-year-old assistant coach for the Redlands [California] High School junior varsity.
“Coach O was so wide open,” Aranda said. “I appreciated that about him.
“Whether it’s Mike Leach or Gary Andersen or Paul Chryst or Les Miles or Coach Orgeron, when you can be yourself and feel confident in who you are and love on your players and build connections, those connections will get through and be strong. You saw that with Coach O and the way he empowered our staff and that community there in Baton Rouge. Some of those bus rides for that championship game were crazy, and I give coach a lot of credit for that. It was all him.”
At Cal Lutheran, where Aranda was a student assistant coach (1996-99), he roomed with current Texas head coach Tom Herman.
“He would always be my main go-to guy on what is up and coming with offenses, these are the latest trends, this is kind of where the game is going,” Aranda said of Herman. “I used to love those talks. We can’t have those talks anymore, but I value Tom’s friendship.… I really like Tom, and I want him to have success outside of when we play him.”
Baylor opens the 2020 season Sept. 5 with a neutral-site game against Ole Miss at NRG Stadium in Houston.