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LSU’s Defensive Coordinator Search: Hotlist

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Some potential names to know regarding the search to replace Dave Aranda.

College Football Playoff National Championship - Winning Press Conference Conference Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

So, LSU has a coordinator opening on defense with Dave Aranda’s decision to take the Baylor head coaching job. What names should you know? Who are the more realistic choices, and who are the pipe dreams? We’ll try and track them right here.

It’s a bit of an odd time to be looking, but that’s kind of part and parcel for a team that played much later into the postseason. Especially when that team played for a national championship.

Hey, remember when that happened? When LSU won the national championship? That was awesome.

It’s a little harder to find great defensive coordinators, as opposed to offense, in my opinion. In the modern game so heavily skewed to offense, you need the right blend of tactician, recruiter and talent evaluator. The ones that can do all three are very rare. Still, Ed Orgeron should have plenty of options to choose from, despite several major coordinator moves already going through. This is a top-shelf job that pays very well. LSU’s last defensive coordinator was the country’s highest-paid assistant, and he had a defense consistently stocked with big-time talent. That’s going to attract a ton of coaches. In fact, don’t be surprised if someone that just took a job pulls a Josh Gattis and jumps ship.

Anyhoo, we’ll do our best to divide these up into Names We Have to Discuss, Big Names, Up-and-Comers and Old Hands. I think those categories are pretty self-explanatory. I do think Orgeron will favor experience here, and I also expect that he will try to move quickly.

Nearly all of the names on this list are completely speculative. Some more than others, with some a reasonably educated guess. But it’s far from complete, and we’ll try to update it as new names emerge.


UPDATE, 1/17 (6:15 a.m.)

Hearing Florida DC Todd Grantham is expected to have interest. Sounds like his time in Gainesville is wearing thin.

Names We Have to Discuss

Obviously, longtime LSU cornerbacks coach Corey Raymond and safeties coach Bill Busch will come up. Busch has served as a DC before, and may likely be recruited by Aranda to come to Waco. He would offer some continuity with Aranda’s scheme, most likely. I would not expect Raymond to receive significant consideration. This isn’t a job for a first-time coordinator, and if Raymond is, in fact, interested in that kind of promotion that he’ll likely have to get it somewhere else. Although it remains to be seen whether that really is something he’s after.

Big Names

Bob Shoop

He led Mississippi State’s dominant 2018 unit, and had some outstanding groups at Penn State a few years back. He most recently took a job with Jim Harbaugh’s staff at Michigan, although it’s believed that would be working under longtime DC Don Brown. He might be looking to take over his own unit again.

Alex Grinch

Led a nice turnaround at Oklahoma, even if that didn’t really show up in the Peach Bow. He has a good job that pays well, but maybe getting out of the offense-heavy Big 12 has appeal?

Brent Pry

Has led top-10 groups at Penn State the last three seasons, and is likely poised to have another great one next year. Pry has been with James Franklin some time, so he probably has some loyalty. Or he might be ready for a change in scenery. Also briefly worked at ULL in the early 2000s.

Jay Bateman

He had some great success with Army, and helped North Carolina jump from 95th in defensive SP+ to 41st last year. Bateman has spent most of his career at the small-school level, but his taste of success in one Power-Five conference may push him to try and jump up another level.

Jim Leonhard

Aranda’s successor at Wisconsin basically maintained what he inherited for the Badgers. But he’s a former All-American safety for Wisconsin, and likely isn’t interested in leaving.

Andy Avalos

The ex-linebacker from Boise State’s heyday took Oregon’s group into the top-10 this season. He’s a West Coast guy so the SEC may not have much attraction. Plus, Oregon would be very willing to match money.

Up-and-Comers

Kris Richard

The now-former Dallas Cowboys DB coach, Richard played at USC during Orgeron’s time there, but made his name as the DB coach of the Seattle Seahawks’ Legion of Boom group a few years ago. He’s a young guy, so it stands to reason that he could adapt to the college game well. And Pete Carroll would almost certainly recommend him.

Zach Arnett

He just took over the defense at Syracuse, but Arnett cut his teeth under Rocky Long at San Diego State, and led some excellent units the last few years.

Blake Baker

Miami’s defensive coordinator had a top-10 unit this season in SP+. He’s been with Manny Diaz for a while though, following him from La. Tech to The U.

Brad White

Kentucky’s DC/outside linebackers coach has maintained strong units in Lexington, including a top-35 group this year even without dominant edge rusher Josh Allen. Also spent time with the Indianapolis Colts under Chuck Pagano.

Ryan Walters

Led one of the SEC’s top units in Missouri this year, and was retained in the transition from Barry Odom to Eli Drinkwitz.

Adam Fuller

Led big turnarounds at mid-major programs like Marshall and Memphis, taking the latter from 87th in defensive SP+ to 40th in 2019. He’s currently set to stick with Mike Norvell and run the Florida State defense, but maybe a big offer can attract him.

Travaris Robinson

Former Auburn cornerback has developed a reputation as Will Muschamp’s right-hand man, and served as his DC and DB coach at South Carolina. Most believe Robinson’s on a path to be a head coach one day, and maybe LSU can offer him a chance to prove himself outside of Coach Boom’s umbrella.

Old Hands

Ron Roberts

UL-L’s DC is the former Southeastern head coach, where he kept them a steady FCS playoff contender.

Clancy Pendergast

Worked with Orgeron at USC and stayed with them through subsequent regimes. Was considered a top name at one time, but hasn’t had great results in recent years, and was run off by Clay Helton.

Randy Shannon

The Miami legend ran the Canes’ amazing defenses of the early Aughts. His name doesn’t stir much excitement these days, but his resume is a little better than you might think. His last few units at Florida from 2015-2017 were very good, and he converted Central Florida from a bottom-run unit to top-50 and top-25 SP+ groups the last two years.

Charlie Strong

He was once considered one of the top minds in the game, but it’s been a few years since he’s run a defense.

Mike MacIntyre

The former Colorado head coach — and a next-tier candidate for LSU’s opening in 2016 — did a very nice job with an undermanned Ole Miss group last year. Jumped over to Memphis, but could probably be talked into returning to the SEC.

Jim Leavitt

Currently working as an analyst for FAU, Leavitt had big success with Colorado under MacIntyre, and then later at Oregon before falling out with Mario Cristobal. Not the flashiest of coaches, but produces hard-nosed units.