A reunion of college roommates Tom Herman and Dave Aranda won’t happen in Austin, as the Texas Longhorns missed out on the LSU Tigers defensive coordinator on Monday when he agreed to what is likely a lucrative contract extension to remain in Baton Rouge.
So where will Herman look next to fill his open defensive coordinator position in Austin?
Current Houston Cougars interim head coach Todd Orlando held that role for Herman at his last spot, so he’s a strong contender if he doesn’t land the full-time gig in the Space City.
Aside from Orlando, let’s look at a couple of other potential candidates.
Arkansas defensive backs coach Paul Rhoads
The early returns on Herman’s coaching staff signal his focus on loyalty, so the ability to elevate his former boss to a defensive coordinator position once again could be enticing for Herman.
More than that, Rhoads is extremely qualified.
In addition to earning half of Iowa State’s road wins over ranked opponents during his tenure in Ames, Rhoads also coached two All-American linebackers with the Cyclones after mentoring seven-time Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis at Pittsburgh.
While working with the Panthers, Rhoads helmed the nation’s No. 18 scoring defense in 2008, one of five defenses that ranked in the top-30 nationally in that category during his eight seasons.
Houston co-defensive coordinator/safeties coach Craig Naivar
Naivar will reportedly join the Texas staff, but the possibility of Orlando landing the Houston head coaching gig and promoting Naivar to defensive coordinator is definitely in play.
So Herman may have to give Naivar a promotion to bring his longtime colleague with him to Austin.
Doing so could be payback for Naivar helping Herman get his first play-calling gig at Texas State in 2005.
“I was a coach for four years at Sam Houston State, and we had just got done finishing an 11-3 campaign,” Herman said on Sunday. “Ron Randleman, a great coach, retired, and the next guy who came in — don't blame him whatsoever — brought his own guys in, and I was out of a job after going 11-3. I think Priya was 1 at the time. It was a pretty nerve-racking time in my life.
“Credit to my good friend Craig Naivar, who was on staff with me at Sam Houston State and had transitioned to be Coach Bailiff's defensive coordinator his first year there in '04. He said they're looking for an offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach, and he said, this guy can do it. I had never coached quarterbacks, never called a play there in my life. Craig stood on the table for me to at least get me in front of Coach Bailiff.”
Naivar lacks the high-level defensive coordinator bona fides of Rhoads, but he does have experience at the position from his stops at Sam Houston State, Texas State, and Rice.
At Houston, he helped coordinate a defense that led the nation in takeaways in 2015.
The emphasis on and ability to create turnovers with his defenses dates back to his time at Texas State — during the run to the 2005 FCS playoff semifinals, the Bobcats generated 33 turnovers.
West Virginia defensive coordinator Tony Gibson
Unlike Rhoads and Naivar, Gibson doesn’t have any ties to Herman, but he does run a similar 3-3-5 defense to what former Texas head coach Charlie Strong ran in Austin.
The difference is that Gibson was able to mold a defense in Morgantown that not only featured less highly-rated talent than the Longhorns, but also achieved more success in the last two seasons.
And since Gibson runs a 3-3-5, he would be able to come to Austin and install his scheme easily with a roster built to feature exactly that type of alignment.
In 2015, the West Virginia defense ranked second nationally in interceptions, fifth in forcing turnovers, eighth opponent three and outs, and 11th in third-down defense.
In an interview with SB Nation in 2016, Herman expressed an interest in running 3-4 defenses.
“I wanted to base out a 3-4, because I knew it was always a big challenge for me game-planning against teams that were really good out of that,” Herman said. "But I wanted to have a guy who knew how to pressure people and knew the strengths and weaknesses of different blitzes.”
Since the Big 12 forces virtually every defense to play in the nickel, the 3-3-5 is basically the conference’s version of the 3-4, making Gibson an intriguing fit.
In 2015, Gibson made $640,000 at West Virginia and with reports that Dana Holgorsen could be a candidate to leave Morgantown for Houston, it’s possible that Gibson is keeping his options open.
By comparison, former Texas defensive coordinator Vance Bedford made $800,000, while Orlando received $500,000 at Houston.
Arizona defensive coordinator Marcel Yates
Preliminary reports indicated that Herman wants to build a staff of recruiters with an understanding of the Texas landscape and Yates fits that bill after spending 2012 and 2013 as the co-defensive coordinator at Texas A&M.
With the Broncos, the defenses run by Yates twice ranked in the top-10 nationally in forcing turnovers, in addition to ranking seventh in tackles for loss and sacks in 2014.
After returning to Boise State to work with former Texas offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin, Yates made the move to Arizona in 2016.
Colorado defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt
A Texas native, Leavitt hasn’t ever coached in his home state, but built his initial reputation by spending six years under Bill Snyder at Kansas State, then built the South Florida program from scratch as the first head coach from 1996 to 2009.
In 2011, Leavitt began serving as Jim Harbaugh’s defensive coordinator with the San Francisco 49ers and found success in his four years in the Bay Area.
When Harbaugh left for Michigan, Leavitt accepted the position as the defensive coordinator at Colorado.
In his two years in Boulder, Leavitt has rebuilt a previously moribund defense that now ranks No. 10 nationally in S&P+ and No. 7 in opponent-adjusted success rate.