Dave Aranda, former Delta State assistant coach, speaks at his his introductory press conference at Baylor.

You may recognize the names of the co-defensive coordinators of the 2007 Delta State football team. One was Dave Aranda. The other as Ron Roberts, who besides helping coordinate the Delta State defense, was also the head coach.

And you probably know the rest of the story. A dozen years later, Aranda has just left LSU, where he was the defensive coordinator, and has become the new head coach at Baylor. One of Aranda’s first moves at Baylor was to hire Roberts as his defensive coordinator. Roberts had been the defensive coordinator at Louisiana-Lafayette.

Rick Cleveland

That’s right. Aranda, who once worked for Roberts at Delta State, is now his boss at Baylor. Both are making a fortune compared to what they made when they resided in Cleveland. For that matter, Aranda was making $2.5 million at LSU, where he was the highest paid assistant coach in the country. Baylor, a private school, does not have to release the terms of its coaches’ contracts. Aranda got a six-year deal. Groceries will not be a problem.

Southern Miss athletic director Jeremy McClain was the boss of both men as athletic director at Delta State. He is far from surprised at the success of either.

“I knew they were really good, both of them,” McClain said Tuesday. “Obviously, you never know what the future holds but I knew they were going to be successful wherever they went. It was easy to see that.”

Present DSU athletic director Mike Kinnison was the highly successful baseball coach with an office just down the hall from those of Roberts and Aranda. “Both of them were workers,” Kinnison said. “They had tremendous work ethic. When I think of them three things come to mind. They were smart, tough and hard-working. To me, that’s just what you’re looking for in defensive football coaches.”

Baylor defensive coordinator Ron Roberts once roamed the sidelines at Delta State.

It should not come as a surprise that the 2007 Delta State led NCAA Division II in defense and finished with 10 victories in 12 games. They held eight of their 12 opponents to 14 or fewer points. They won the championship of the Gulf South Conference, the toughest D-II league in the country.

“That was Ron’s first staff at Delta State, and he put together a tremendous group, especially on defense,” McClain said. “They did some tremendous things in a short amount of time.”

In this writer’s opinion, the three most important traits of successful coaches:

• Ability to evaluate talent and recruit players

• Ability to get your players to play hard for you. In other words, ability to inspire

• Having a knowledge of the game and how to use it. In football on defense, that means scheming.

If one of those is missing, success is a pipe dream. McClain says Aranda and Roberts excelled at all three.

Aranda was just 30 years old when Roberts hired him away from Aranda’s alma mater Cal-Lutheran. Interestingly, Aranda’s college roommate was Tom Herman, now the head coach at Texas.

“Dave (Aranda) was a quiet, take care of business guy,” McClain said. “I don’t want to get into the Xs and Os, but he was running that 3-3-5 defense that he has become so famous for. It really created problems for the offense. He had guys coming at you from every direction. It created some real problems for people trying to block them. If you talked football with Dave, even for a short time, you knew he was really knowledgeable about the game, and, like Ron, he got his players to really play hard for him. And, although he was quiet, he was a tremendous communicator. His players got his message.”

Roberts had been the Delta State defensive coordinator for three years before being elevated to head coach. After 2007, his first season as head coach, Roberts stayed four more seasons at DSU, achieving a nifty 47-16 record and making the D-II playoffs in four of five years. He left there for Southeastern Louisiana where he resurrected a program that had had a winning record only once in seven years in the Southland Conference. In his six seasons at Southeastern, Roberts won 35 league games, while losing just 14 and won two conference titles. For the past two years, Roberts has been the defensive coordinator at Louisiana-Lafayette, where the Ragin’ Cajuns have been to bowls both years.

You also might recognize the name of Roberts’ last defensive coordinator at Delta State. He was Pete Golding now the defensive coordinator for Nick Saban at Alabama.

In fact, Delta State has become quite the cradle of D-I football coaches in recent years. Former DSU head coach Steve Campbell, who won a national championship, is now the head coach at South Alabama. Other former DSU assistants who are now head coaches at the D-I level: Jay Hopson (Southern Miss), Mike Bloomgren (Rice), Mark Hudspeth (Austin Peay), Jason Simpson (Tennessee-Martin) and Chris Willis (North Alabama).

Kinnison, by the way, has had no problems keeping up with Ron Roberts. Roberts’ son, Reid Roberts, is a catcher on the DSU baseball team.

Dave Aranda, left foreground, watches his Delta State defense practice in 2007.

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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.