In three seasons at Wisconsin, defensive coordinator Dave Aranda built himself quite the resume.
His stint with the Badgers lasted from 2013-15. During that time, his defenses averaged 289.4 yards allowed per game, ranking first in the nation. In those three years, Wisconsin allowed 16.9 points per game — good for second nationally — and put up a 30-10 record.
Much of Wisconsin’s success during that time period was a credit to Aranda, especially considering the inconsistencies at head coach. Wisconsin went from Gary Anderson (2013-14) to Barry Alvarez (interim in 2014) to Paul Chryst in 2015.
Chryst is heading into his second season with Wisconsin, but he’ll be without a major piece. Aranda is now down in the bayou doing what he does best for Les Miles and the LSU Tigers.
To replace him, Wisconsin went out and hired USC defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, who had been with the Trojans for two seasons after stints at Washington and Tennessee, respectively, and a four-year post at Boise State.
He’s a long-time defensive coordinator and has the numbers to back up his hiring.
In 2015, USC led the Pac-12 in third-down conversion defense. The Trojans also scored five defensive touchdowns, which had to be pleasing to hear for Chryst. USC also boasted a top-20 defense in 2014 as far as turnover margin, red zone defense and third down conversions were concerned.
It’s a different ball-game in the Big Ten, but Wilcox has both the experience and the history of success that would lead one to believe he can keep the defensive momentum rolling in Madison.
“During my many conversations with numerous football people that I trusted, one name kept surfacing, Justin Wilcox,” Chryst said upon hiring the new defensive coordinator. “I am very happy that we were able to get a quality coach like Justin to join our staff. I think he’s a great fit for Wisconsin and this program is a great fit for him. His addition makes us better. He has tremendous experience at some big-time schools and has coached some really good players. He does a great job putting his players in the best situations so they can be successful.”
It’s rare to replace a successful assistant with another equally successful assistant, especially at the coordinator level.
Often times great coordinators hit the fast track to becoming a head coach and they don’t want to make a lateral move. That leaves a lack of proven coaching talent available for schools when they lose a big-time coordinator, thus a common move is to hired a trusted positional coach who has worked in the system. Another option is shuffling things around and giving out co-coordinator titles.
In Wisconsin’s case, the hiring of Wilcox was really a home run. He has a history of success at multiple major college football programs, and that’s something players will trust and respect.
Sure, Wisconsin’s defense may hit a snag or two learning to operate under a new play-caller (especially early), but there’s no reason to believe that the Badgers’ defense will take a step back with Wilcox at the helm.
An old coach always leaves a shadow, and ironically enough, Wisconsin will have a chance to confront that shadow to start off the year at Lambeau Field. The Badgers take on LSU and Aranda’s new defense.
Don’t expect Wisconsin to be distracted, though.
“At the end of the day, we’re just focused on the opponent,” Wisconsin safety D’Cota Dixon told Jason Galloway of The Wisconsin State Journal. “Coach Aranda’s not on the field. He’s a great coach and he’s a great play-caller, but at the end of the day, it’s about executing our job and executing the game plan. That’s what we’re focused on.”