“How do you build on your success?” That was the question of the day for the reigning Big XII champion Baylor Bears.
It’s easy to fall on cliche’s in answer to a question like that. Give some variation of “Continue to get better” and “The past is the past” and move on to the next part of your media obligations. It can be a pretty dry, uninformative exchange.
Somehow, Dave Aranda always manages to turn what should be a dull moment into a message of such profound depth that you forget he’s talking about football at all. His focus is so firmly fixed on the individuals on his team and how to form those individuals into a team, you could airlift his insights into any other field and they would make as much sense.
During his interview with the ESPNU broadcast, Aranda put his full philosophy of team-building on display. When asked about why he felt he needed to make a decision about the starting quarterback in spring when no one else did, he took the opportunity not only to praise the player chosen as the starter, Blake Shapen, but also the guy who now plays on another team, Gerry Bohanon, saying “There is no Baylor football without Gerry, there is no last year, there is no me without Gerry.” In the later press conference, Aranda added, “You walk in my house, I’ve got pictures of my kids posing next to Gerry. It’s just kind of a crazy thing. So it was very difficult to do.” That’s impactful, for a coach to publicly recognize his indebtedness to a player who voluntarily left the team this offseason. Aranda also implied that while he’s got a strong relationship with all his players, his connection with Bohanon was particularly close, making it hard for him to see him go. It’s an example of how much value Aranda puts on seeing his players as people first. “Instead of doing stuff to create value, you start with value,” Aranda said of how he wants everyone ion the team to be viewed.
Aranda built on that idea later on during the press conference. When asked what the focus of the offseason was, he answered,
I think it’s continuing to make — for there to be enough trust and enough love, really, where guys make themselves available to each other, where you’re not pretending or performing or trying to be what you think a coach wants you to be or what you think a position group wants you to be, but for you to really be yourself.
And then to — when you do have that feeling, to kind of put it out there under the lights and all of it and take the praise and the criticism and know that that’s what you did, that’s not who you are.
So all of that right there is a lot. There’s a lot of ways that can get screwed up. We spend most of our time with that.
Trust? Love? This guy is talking about football? Again, he sort of his and he sort of isn’t. It’s all intermingled for him as he continues to build a culture that not only matches Baylor’s mission as a Christian university but also seeks to make personal growth and development the centerpiece of everything they do.
A few questions later, he was asked about establishing Baylor’s place in the shifting landscape of the Big XII and college football generally. Rather than talking about brand, the focus on incoming Big XII commissioner Brett Yormark in his own press conference that kicked off events on Wednesday, Aranda went directly to things off the field.
I think it starts with the focus, with more focus on things that are outside of the sport, more focus on academics. Hey, we had this GPA this semester, right, and that was a record; let’s do better the next semester. You had your personal best this semester; let’s get a new personal best this coming semester. The focus on spiritual growth.
I think it’s easy sometimes to get caught up in like moralism and I’ve got to do something because it’s right or this is wrong and all this other thing. But to do something because you feel at union with — you feel like there’s a oneness and you feel the love of Christ, I think that’s a whole other thing.
So I think the focus on those things opens people up and lets them really be seen, and I think that makes a difference.
Aranda took a question that, at its heart, was a question about Baylor’s relative power and influence in collegiate athletics and transformed it into a moment to dig deeper into the ways he hopes his players and university can better embody their mission to love one another. He simply couldn’t have been more on-brand if he tried.
A full transcript of Aranda’s quotes is available for download here, if you’re looking for some inspirational reading.
There were a few football focused comments that were of note, too.
On Shapen, Aranda explained the decision to select him as the starter came down to making the right football choice. “Just at the end of it, it just became apparent, especially with the spring game, I think that was a factor in it, but at the end of it, it just became apparent that Blake was our better passer...I think in this one we had to look at who could be the better player for us and not really incorporate the person, which is just kind of the opposite of what I usually do.” Ben Sims said that Shapen is becoming very confident and an influential teammate, so hopefully Shapen can continue to grow in that way off the field and make the decision more comfortable for Aranda in that way, too. Earlier in the ESPNU interview, Aranda commented that Shapen continued to make really good reads and to be strong in pressure situations throughout the spring. Aranda also noted he wants the offense to shift to running to open up the throw and that he’s hopeful Shapen at QB can help that.
Aranda also sounds very impressed with where the offensive line is at. He mentioned that it has been a challenge for the coaching staff to put sufficient obstacles in front of them to create a real sense of challenged. Many of them are so experienced now, they’ve been able to tackle the offseason without much adversity. Those are some very encouraging words to hear for a team that wants to continue to develop its reliably violent offense.
It sounds like the running back position is still a work in progress. “We’re still looking for more,” Aranda said. “To be able to grow to where we want to be, we need that 5-6 yards, that falling forward, and that violence.” Thankfully, the offensive line should help create some margin for error as Jeff Grimes and the offensive staff look to identify the primary running back.
On the defensive side, it sounds like the emphasis is shifting to the line of scrimmage. Aranda thinks that his defense will be successful because of the defensive line’s ability to disrupt and the collective effort of the back seven to take advantage of that disruption. When Dillon Doyle was asked about the defensive line, he said, “They do an unbelievable job of keeping blockers off the second level.” The defensive line can make a lot of their own defensive calls, Doyle said. “They care about the whole process, the whole game. They want to see the whole picture.”
Aranda and Ron Roberts have always emphasized flexibility and communication in their defensive schemes, so it’s no surprise that with the departure of talent to the NFL, the focus would shift to the line where the high level talent now seems to be. Doyle seems to understand that while this year’s team will be different than last year’s, there are certain things to carry forward. When asked about McVay’s game-winning tackle in the Big XII Championship Game, Doyle said, “It speaks to who we were as a defense last year, communication wise. We were able to get a call in” without having a timeout. “Taking those lessons and moving it into what we can do this year, accelerating that growth trajectory” will be the key to having another successful season, Doyle added when asked when he knew last season’s team was great.
It’s one thing to win the press conference. It’s another to win the conference itself. Now that Aranda and Baylor have done the latter, it sure makes it easy to revel in the former.
August come quickly.