Baylor decided to bring football coach Dave Aranda back for a fifth year in 2024 despite going 3-9 this season, its worst record since 2017. However, there are big changes coming to the Bears' coaching staff after Baylor decided to move on from offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes.
Multiple sources confirm to CBS Sports that the Bears will hire Jake Spavital as offensive coordinator. Spavital was head coach at Texas State from 2019-22 and spent the 2023 season running the offense at California. He will be Aranda's third offensive coordinator in five seasons.
Also, Aranda, a longtime defensive coordinator, will call the defensive plays for the first time since he has been a head coach.
Aranda led Baylor to its best season in school history in 2021, a 12-2 campaign capped off with a Big 12 championship and Sugar Bowl victory. However, things have slipped dramatically since then. After the Bears were picked to win the Big 12 in 2022, Baylor posted back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since 2009. Aranda is 9-16 in that span and has lost 13 of his last 16 games. Baylor has lost nine straight home games against FBS competition.
An assistant on LSU's 2019 national championship team, Aranda was the first coach hired at Baylor without head coaching experience since Kevin Steele in 1999. The latter set off one of the worst stretches of football in program history, including a 1-31 mark in Big 12 play.
In addition to three offensive playcallers, Aranda becomes the third defensive playcaller since arriving in Waco, Texas. Matt Powledge ran the defense in 2023 as a first-team playcaller, while former coordinator Ron Roberts called plays from 2020-22. Few coaches in the sport are afforded so many opportunities to fix their mistakes. Baylor is making a significant gamble betting that he can get it right.
"Dave is still growing as a head coach," Baylor athletic director Mack Rhoades said in an interview with BaylorBears.com. "He has coached fewer games as a head coach than either of our previous two coaches did before they got to our campus. And when we are all long gone, we want people to talk about Dave's tenure with the same reverence we have when we talk about [all-time wins leader] Grant Teaff and his team at Baylor."
Aranda's tenure has been so plagued by inconsistency that it's almost impossible to evaluate. Under his watch, Baylor has gone through the Covid-19 pandemic, introduction of NIL, an extra year of eligibility due to the pandemic and mass proliferation of the transfer portal. His struggles to rapidly adapt leave the Bears in a difficult position entering a critical moment.
Slow to change in a changing sport
He is known as one of the more thoughtful coaches in college football, but Aranda has been slow to react to the sport's biggest changes. Baylor took just 10 scholarship transfers over his first three years. In 2023, he took 12 and has privately expressed regret at waiting too long to embrace the portal.
Now, the Bears believe their most significant issue is NIL. Aranda has acknowledged his struggles in how to manage the NIL side of things, but it has cost his team.
Baylor's athletic department has tried to adjust in the past months and the football collective will double in funding. That said, it's still catching up to comparable collectives at TCU and Texas Tech on which Baylor judges itself.
Between a small senior class and likely heavy transfer load, the Class of 2024 was always going to be smaller. The Bears hold just 14 commitments in its 2024 recruiting class and the No. 60 high school recruiting class, one of the worst rankings in years.
But even for the players who have gotten to campus, it's been a mixed bag. Baylor had six players selected in the 2022 NFL Draft, including four prospects in the first three rounds. Baylor's 2022 squad developed just one draft pick in the following year's draft and no players on the 2023 team are projected to be drafted. Unless receiver Ketron Jackson or running back Richard Reese take significant steps in 2024, there might not be any All-Big 12 upperclassmen on the roster in 2024 either.
There's a great deal of excitement about the freshmen who emerged, including cornerbacks Caden Jenkins and Carl Williams and running back Dawson Pendergrass. Baylor can't afford to wait for them to grow up.
Changes coming to offense
After relieving Grimes of his duties, Baylor searched for an offensive coordinator with head coaching and administrative experience to take over the unit. Spavital, the sitting offensive coordinator at Cal, emerged as the top choice. The hope around Waco is that he can take on full responsibility of the offense to free up Aranda's focus for the defense.
Grimes ran a physical, ball-control offense that paved the way to a Big 12 title. His wide-zone system was built to take advantage of quicker, stunting defensive linemen that play in a flyover 3-3-5 defense, but the Big 12 has continued to change schematically on both ends. Spavital is a return to pacing and spacing that characterized some of the top Baylor teams of the 2010s.
Spavital came up under Dana Holgorsen at Oklahoma State and West Virginia, and later coached the offense under Kevin Sumlin at Texas A&M. His units were inconsistent for the Aggies and played poorly at Texas State. However, Cal jumped from No. 95 to 39 in scoring offense, the best unit for the Golden Bears since 2016 -- ironically, another Spavital unit. While Spavital is known for his quarterback development, Cal excelled at taking advantage of its best offensive talent. The Golden Bears ranked top 40 nationally in rushing offense behind running back Jaydn Ott.
Baylor returns a handful of interesting, young pieces on offense to complement Spavital. Running backs Pendergrass and Reese have been highly productive. Receiver Monaray Baldwin never quite fit into Grimes' system, but should thrive in space. Quarterback will be an interesting question after Blake Shapen entered the transfer portal.
The hope for Aranda is that by hiring a fully-formed offensive mind, he could step aside and put more focus on the defense. Defensive coordinator Matt Powledge ran the unit last year, but struggled as a first-time playcaller. Aranda is regarded as a defensive savant, one of the top defensive coordinators of the 21st Century. Baylor is betting that Aranda is capable of fixing the nation's No. 110 defense.
Aranda tried a similar strategy in 2020 when he hired former North Carolina coach Larry Fedora to place next to passing game coordinator Jorge Munoz in an attempt to replicate the Steve Ensminger-Joe Brady pairing that led LSU to a national championship. The pandemic season came with great complications across the board, but Fedora and Munoz were both let go after just one season after their offense which ranked in the bottom 20 nationally.
Aranda can't whiff again.
Critical juncture for Bears
Baylor's fall comes at a dangerous moment for the program. The Big 12 added four new members in 2024, including in-state rival Houston. Four new schools join the conference from the Pac-12 in 2025 as well, headlined by Utah.
Additionally, Texas joins Texas A&M in the SEC. SMU is set to join the ACC in 2024, giving the state of Texas seven schools competing in the power conferences. The state of Texas remains far and away the premier recruiting destination in the nation and the competition has never been more fierce.
The state of Texas produced 54 blue-chip recruits in the 247Sports Class of 2024 Top247 player rankings. Those players are going to 25 different schools. The four other legacy power conference members have multiple Texans from the Top247 rankings committed. Baylor doesn't have any. Perhaps the worst part of a truly miserable season, Baylor went 0-5 against in-state opponents. The losses were by nearly 23 points per game, including an embarrassing 42-31 loss against Sun Belt foe Texas State.
Aranda is highly respected in the BU athletic department. He spurned outside interest to sign a long-term contract extension with the Bears in 2021. Outside of two-year starting quarterback Blake Shapen, there has not been a roster exodus. Several key players have publicly pledged to return in 2024. Everyone is hoping for improvement.
Between 2010 and 2021, Baylor won three Big 12 championships and posted six 10-win seasons. Outside of the pandemic season, the Bears had a streak of 11 bowls in 12 years. Prior to the streak, Baylor went 14 years without seeing a bowl. It went 43-117 over the stretch and ghastly 14-98 in Big 12 play.
Despite all the success of the last decade, the floor is low at Baylor. The future of the program rests on Aranda's shoulders and he must be proactive to avoid irreversibly falling behind.