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Thoughts on Baylor’s Decision to Keep Dave Aranda and Where We Go From Here

Here’s what it’s going to take for me to believe this was the right—or even a defensible—move.

A little less than 20 hours ago, Baylor leaked the news through national media outlets that Head Coach Dave Aranda would return for the 2024 football season despite, to put it mildly, disappointing results from the 2022 and 2023 seasons that saw Baylor lose 13 of its last 16 games, including 7 at home, and experience the largest fall from preseason to postseason rankings in SP+ of any team since 2020. This news was, predictably, met with considerable opposition from those that have lost faith in the current regime, including me.

Realizing that we are still less than a full day out from the pseudo-announcement, and a lot of pieces are still moving and will continue to move, I remain steadfast in the belief that there is little to no chance that this move will be objectively successful. I don’t see how it’s possible that this Baylor program can improve enough in the next nine months, regardless who this coaching staff can hire or what players can be gained from the Transfer Portal, to change the outcome a year from now.

Stated differently, Baylor will almost certainly be in the same place a year from now: bickering as a fanbase about Aranda’s future.

But at the same time as everything was going down yesterday afternoon, I started thinking about how you might make this move relatively successful, if not absolutely so. Given that the decision is not going to change at this point, what are the kinds of things that I would need to see to get on board? Aside from an on-field miracle, what needs to happen as Baylor move forward such that the program won’t look back at this a year from now and say it was the wrong decision when made and subsequent events didn’t make it better?

Here’s what I came up with: I can get on board with this decision IF:

#1: Baylor Communicates the Plan.

To date we have heard very little from the University itself except quotes/statements leaked through national media.

Those statements (through media) boil down to:

1) we will make “significant” changes “on and off the field,” including staff changes, and

2) we will invest in NIL.

As to the former, only two real changes have occurred so far. Offensive Coordinator Jeff Grimes is out, and Defensive Coordinator Matt Powledge has been stripped of play-calling responsibilities in favor of Aranda himself. No other staff changes on either side of the ball have been announced, and none are expected—at least on offense—until a new coordinator is identified. On that front a few names have been floated by various places, but we don’t know anything beyond that.

As to the latter (NIL), Matt Mosley has said on Twitter that NIL investment will double, but even that lacks specificity since we don’t know where that will put us relative to our peers or how it will be implemented. Baylor fans may get more information if/when Athletic Director Mack Rhoades speaks to Mosley or David Smoak early this week, which is likely given that has been the typical playbook in the past.

Given the way this process unfolded and the diminishing trust among the fanbase in the decision-making process, it is imperative that Baylor communicate exactly how it reached this decision and what it expects will happen going forward. It is not enough for them to tell us to trust their judgment and let things play out.

Baylor fans need details on what they plan to do, how they plan to do it, and what their expectations are. What does an “uptick in Baylor’s NIL investment” (Pete Thamel’s words) mean and how will it be implemented? What other changes are they contemplating as part of this process, whether that’s tailgating, uniforms (unlikely), gameday atmosphere, stadium upgrades, etc.? So far (less than a day in) exactly one coach has been dismissed in a move that seems suspiciously like scapegoating. What’s next on that front, even if you can’t talk specifics yet? Most importantly, what constitutes success for next year, and how are you going to measure it?

The program’s leadership has lost the benefit of the doubt. Only effective, substantive, and consistent communication will bridge that gap. It cannot be that you have a plan, but Baylor fans don’t get to know what it is.

#2: Baylor Executes the Plan.

Once you share what the plan is and what you intend to do, you have to actually do it. Words without deeds are dead.

I suspect (but do not know) that part of the way this went down is that Aranda traded something for his extra year, and that something is likely guaranteed money through a reduction in his buyout. If that is true, those hypothetical savings (assuming this doesn’t work out) can’t simply be pocketed; the funds must be redeployed along with additional funds.

If that is through NIL, then actually do it and show that it is done. If it is through something else, like a revamp of our S&C program or stadium upgrades, do that and show that it is done. It is not sufficient to say nothing of your plans. It is equally insufficient to tell us the plans and not follow through.

You can get me on board (or somewhat on board) with the idea of giving Aranda another year if you use that year the right way, as a springboard into the future of Baylor Football, whether that is under Aranda’s leadership or not. That means preparing now through the promised investment in NIL, pouring resources into player acquisition, and whatever organizational or structural changes you need to make to turn things around. Aranda has clear managerial and administrative shortcomings, so help alleviate them with increased support. This has the immediate benefit of giving Aranda a chance, however slim, of being successful here, but it also prepares the way for his successor to hit the ground running if things don’t work out. Just saying you’re going to do a bunch of things and then sitting on your hands is completely unacceptable. Tell us what you plan to do, do it, and show that it is done.

#3: Baylor Does Not Change Its Definition of Success.

As we sit here today, my biggest fear is that because we like Aranda so much, Baylor grades on a curve such that any improvement is viewed as sufficient. That’s how a one-year commitment becomes, in reality, a two or three-year commitment; “We’re getting there, just be patient!”

Baylor cannot change what it views as success simply because we’ve allowed Aranda to turn his coordinators over for the third time in four years and promised to do things we should have already been doing (like invest in NIL). We will fall further behind our rivals than we already are and dig the hole deeper.

The athletic department’s view of what constitutes success must remain constant and unwavering, so that our fans can know we are building a product worthy of their time, money, and attention. If, for example, you would have required a bowl game or being competitive in the conference next season for Aranda to keep his job, that must still be the requirement. Continually rebooting the program under the same leadership is unsustainable. Accountability is key.

UPDATE: As I was writing this piece, Baylor released a Q&A with Mack Rhoades that is exactly what I feared we might get and is plainly insufficient. It is frustratingly light on specifics, talking about things like NIL, recruiting, and fan engagement in the abstract while trying to strike a reassuring tone. Take this quote:

Obviously, this is a very important offseason. Dave didn’t begin thinking about this offseason after the West Virginia game. He has shown an impressive proactiveness over the past many weeks, through several conversations. He not only has articulated a strong vision and already begun to execute it, but I can also feel the confidence he has in it when I am with him. Our staff, and myself, will be a resource to helping Dave fund and execute whatever changes he thinks are important to make to help us compete for championships.

This communicates nothing beyond “trust us, we’ve been doing this a long time.” Baylor fans deserve to know what the “strong vision” is and how it has already begun being executed.

I realize we’re less than a day into this (although Rhoades says we’re not, which implies the decision to bring back Aranda wasn’t made yesterday or even this week), but you have to do more than this. The fanbase deserves specifics delivered through local media asking tough questions, not word salad puff pieces with canned answers and talking points.

Tell us what you plan to do, do it, and show that it is done.

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