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BATON ROUGE — The LSU football coaching search is down to three candidates, and the next coach could be named by “the end of this week” or early next week, two sources with knowledge of the search said Monday morning.
The candidates are Baylor head coach Dave Aranda, Louisiana-Lafayette head coach Billy Napier and Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell.
Aranda, 45, appears to be in the lead as he has quickly turned around the Baylor program. The Bears (9-2, 6-2 Big 12) were ranked No. 11 in the College Football Playoff rankings last week after upsetting Oklahoma 27-14 on Nov. 13.
Baylor was 2-7 in Aranda’s first season in 2020, but he inherited a winning program. In the 2019 season, the Bears were 11-3 with a Sugar Bowl berth under Coach Matt Rhule, who left to coach the Carolina Panthers in the NFL. Baylor was 7-6 in 2018.
Aranda was a very successful defensive coordinator at LSU from 2016-19 and left for Baylor after the Tigers won the national championship on Jan. 13, 2020, at 15-0. As a coordinator at Wisconsin (2013-15), Aranda consistently had highly ranked defenses.
LSU athletic director Scott Woodward likes Aranda, who is married with three children, because of his experience at LSU and lack of baggage personally and professionally. Aranda was not named in an exhaustive report on LSU’s mishandling of sexual assault allegations against former football players Derrius Guice and Drake Davis by the Husch Blackwell firm last March. He has also not been named in the NCAA’s ongoing investigation of the football program.
Aranda makes $4 million a year and is in the second of a six-year contract. Woodward just hired away Baylor’s three-time national champion women’s basketball coach Kim Mulkey to LSU for $23.6 million over eight years. She was at Baylor for two decades.
Napier, 42, has more head coaching experience than Aranda and has been an assistant at much more successful programs. Napier has the Cajuns at 10-1 this season and 7-0 in the Sun Belt Conference in his fourth season. UL finished No. 15 in the final Associated Press poll last season at 10-1 and 7-1. He was 11-3 and 7-1 in 2019 and 7-7 and 5-3 in his first season in 2018.
Napier inherited a program that had three straight losing seasons under former coach Mark Hudspeth.
Before coming to UL, Napier was offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Arizona State in 2017.
Napier is also a member of Alabama coach Nick Saban’s coaching tree. Napier coached wide receivers from 2013-16 at Alabama, which won the 2015 national championship. Napier was also offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Clemson in 2009-10.
LSU has never hired a pass-oriented offensive coordinator in its history. Napier has been one of the hottest coaches in the country in recent years during coaching searches. Many believe he turned down the Mississippi State job after the 2019 season and the South Carolina and Auburn jobs after the 2020 season. He also took his name out of Missouri’s search for a coach early after the 2019 season.
Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin, who just fired coach Dan Mullen on Sunday, is very interested in Napier and may have some interest in Oregon coach Mario Cristobal, the same two sources have confirmed. Cristobal has been listed as a possible candidate at LSU.
Napier makes $2 million a year and is under contract through 2025.
Campbell, 41, is in his sixth season at Iowa State, which has dropped to 6-5 and 4-4 in the Big 12 this season after a 9-3 and 8-1 season last year. After a 3-9 and 2-7 season in his first year in 2016, Campbell produced two straight 8-5 seasons with 5-4 and 6-3 conference marks in 2017 and ’18 before going 7-6 and 5-4 in 2019.
He was previously the head coach at Toledo from 2012-15 and had four straight winning seasons, winning nine games three times.
Campbell is under contract through 2028 and makes $4 million a year.