Baylor football had never finished in the top five of the AP poll or won more than 11 games in its 115-year history before last season. The Bears did both in Dave Aranda’s second year as head coach, going 12-2 and defeating Ole Miss in the Sugar Bowl to end up right at No. 5 in the final rankings.
They are 10th in this year’s preseason AP top 25 poll, one spot behind Big 12 rival Oklahoma. Baylor had not been ranked to start the season since 2016, after cracking the top 10 of the preseason poll the previous two years. Baylor also had five players — linebacker Dillon Doyle, offensive lineman Jacob Gall, offensive lineman Connor Galvin, defensive lineman Siaki Ika and tight end Ben Sims — named to the preseason All-Big 12 team.
— Baylor Football (@BUFootball) August 15, 2022
This is where Baylor was hoping the football program would go after Aranda arrived in Waco with a reputation as one of the sport’s brightest defensive minds. He won a national championship as LSU’s defensive coordinator in 2019 and had previously served as Wisconsin’s defensive coordinator.
Baylor rebounded from a 2-7 campaign in Aranda’s first season to beat Oklahoma State in the Big 12 championship game in 2021. He signed a contract extension this offseason that will keep him at Baylor through 2029.
“The ability to come to Baylor was to change, to grow and to become a full person,” Aranda told 247 Sports in June. “Going from your head to your heart is the longest road. I feel like Baylor is a fit for that, and I think I learn more than I teach here. I’m happy to be here.”
His faith was a big reason he wanted to be at Baylor, which is a private Christian university.
“To have the opportunity to coach with your Christian faith out front was a big pull,” Aranda said at his introductory press conference in January 2020. “Unfortunately, most schools, that’s not looked upon as something to be. At Baylor, I can coach being myself. And I can coach from the heart alongside kids who have their hearts wide open.”
Aranda was raised in a Catholic home, and his mom was a devout churchgoer. Though faith was part of his life from an early age, it wasn’t until Aranda was coaching at the University of Hawaii that he really started pursuing a personal relationship with God.
“Since that point, I think [I’ve gained] the ability to kind of let go of control and open up my heart,” Aranda said on the Sports Spectrum Podcast in June 2020. “I’d been able to do that, I think, with people. For a long time, [I] struggled to do that with God.”
Throughout his various coaching stops, Aranda noticed that Christian coaches seemed to have an easier time navigating all the stress and pressure that comes with the job. He started to see how faith and coaching go together.
— Baylor Football (@BUFootball) October 1, 2021
Aranda strives to create an environment where his players feel comfortable being themselves because they know they are loved and supported. For him, everything starts with building deep connections.
“To see sport through that lens puts it in a whole different perspective,” he said on the podcast. “Now, you’re working to use sport as a way to develop men, to develop leaders, as opposed to the scoreboard and everything else.”
Being in a high-profile leadership position gives Aranda a platform to model servant leadership and live out one of the verses he draws encouragement from — Romans 12:10: “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.”
“What an opportunity for us in football to take one of the main messages in the Bible — as I would see it — and the opportunities to expound on that, to reinforce that, to teach that, are all over,” he said on the podcast.
The Bears open their season Sept. 3 against Albany. If Baylor defends its conference championship, it would become the only program besides Oklahoma with four Big 12 titles.
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