Now that Jeff Ulbrich has decided to leave Westwood for Hotlanta (yeah, that's a good choice), the focus needs to be who should be Jim Mora's third defensive coordinator in three seasons.
Several names have been rumored already.
Former USC and Cal DC Clancy Pendergast has been one name that has been suggested. While Pendergast's defenses have been solid, the biggest knock on him is that he doesn't like to recruit. On top of that, Pendergast has supposedly accepted a job recently with the San Francisco 49ers.
Another name that has been rumored is Wisconsin DC Dave Aranda. Aranda seems like a solid choice who has Southern California ties, having graduated from Redlands HS and played football at Cal Lutheran in Thousand Oaks. While he's never coached in the Pac-12, he is a candidate that would not have to learn on the job.
After last season's experiment with Jeff Ulbrich, Coach Mora needs to hire an experienced DC and Aranda seems to fit the bill. Aranda is the type of coach we've generally been in favor of -- one who works their way up the ranks from smaller schools to bigger ones. Aranda's resume includes coaching stops at Cal Lutheran, Texas Tech, Delta State, Southern Utah, Hawaii, and Utah State before Wisconsin. He followed new Oregon State coach Gary Andersen from Utah State to Wisconsin in 2013. With a new boss on the job in Madison, he may just be ready to come home to Southern California. As an added bonus, with his old boss' new team on the schedule next year, he could really prove a very good hire.
Before discussing other possibilities, let's take a look at who should not get the job.
At the top of that list is Rocky Seto. Considering the fact the Bruin fans have already vetoed Seto once, there's no way that Mora should ever consider hiring him. Coach Mora really needs to rethink his advance planning. Thankfully, it looks like Seto will stay in Seattle. Perhaps he still has a bad taste in his mouth from the #VetoSeto campaign.
While we're at it, don't even think about bringing back DeWayne Walker. His retention was one of the contributing factors to the program failures under Coach Neuheisel. Not only that, but, when he left, he proved that he should have never gotten the HC job at UCLA by failing so badly as the Head Coach at New Mexico State that he left there to take a position coach job with the worst team in the NFL. Talk about a step down.
Another person who probably shouldn't get the job is DB coach Demetrice Martin. Don't get me wrong. There are worse choices than Coach "Meat". He has certainly brought the "BOOM!" to the Bruins and he has been a very valuable member of the staff from a recruiting perspective. The problem with promoting Coach Meat is that UCLA simply cannot afford to have another defensive coordinator learning on the job.
So, who else should be considered for the job?
A candidate worthy of consideration at this point in time is Appalachian State DC Nate Woody. Really? The guy coaches at Appalachian State. Why him? Because he has 14 years experience as a defensive coordinator and, despite the fact that he has been a defensive coordinator at two smaller schools, his defenses have performed well. His Wofford teams consistently put up some of the best defensive stats in the country and his Appalachian State defenses have performed well too. He brings much needed experience and results to the table. Plus, coming from a small school background, he will be hungry for the opportunity to improve UCLA's defense and he should be used to working hard recruiting. When you're recruiting for Appalachian State or Wofford, you have to fight harder to get guys to sign with you instead of signing with a bigger school. I'd bet that he proves to be one of the best recruiters on the staff if Mora were to hire him.
And, if all that wasn't enough, he's run a 3-4 defense at Appalachian State so the base defensive scheme would remain the same.
Mora must hire a replacement with experience as a successful defensive coordinator somewhere else, if at all possible. The problem he will run into is that it may be hard to do at this point in time. The 2014-15 coaching carousel is close to stopping.
Looking at the DCs at the top defenses from 2014, almost all of the best defensive coordinators who would be in a position to move to UCLA have already been snapped up by other schools.
That's why it feels like the coaching carousel is really a game of musical chairs and it seems like Mora is the guy left standing without a chair to sit in.
This hire is an incredibly important one for Coach Mora. He can't afford to be looking for another defensive coordinator after next season. If he can't solidify his staff with a home run hire, he will likely face even bigger problems in the future.