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Todd Orlando, Cal defensive coordinator candidate

The biggest change that Cal will make this offseason will be at defensive coordinator. We look at one potential candidate from Utah State.

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The upcoming Cal defensive coordinator hire will be a make-or-break decision for Sonny Dykes. He got a mulligan with Andy Buh and managed to bail out of that situation, but this next defensive coordinator is going to be the one he rises or sinks with at Berkeley. Dykes seems committed to finding a coach with actual defensive coordinator position. So let's take a look at some of the potential prospects before a hire is made.

With Oregon apparently hiring from within, Cal seems to have the inside track to hiring the best available defensive coordinator candidate out here. One of the potential candidates that's been floated out there is Utah State defensive coordinator Todd Orlando, who is attracting a bit of attention after an impressive season.

Coaching Career

Orlando is one of those coaches who has kind of floated around the college football periphery the past decade and a half. He coached high school football in Pennsylvania as a defensive coordinator in 1994 & 1995, then moved over to UPenn to coach linebackers. He got his first big break at UConn, taking over as inside linebackers coach in 1999-2004. He tutored a bunch of solid linebackers for UConn before being hired as defensive coordinator in 2005.

After coaching linebackers and coordinating the defense from 2005 to 2010 at UConn, Orlando moved to Florida International as defensive coordinator for two years. He's in his first year at Utah State as defensive coordinator and safeties coach.

Notable statistics

Here are the nationwide ranks from 2007-2013 (UConn '07-10, FIU '11-12, USU '13).

Behind the numbers / scheme

You can see pretty consistent production in all facets for Orlando's units. They were strong against either the run or the pass and sometimes both. They were solid in pushing offenses behind the line of scrimmage, which is particularly impressive in the MWC. What's most impressive is how Orlando kept opposing offenses out of the end zone--almost every year he would produce a top 50 scoring defense.

For those not happy about the 4-3, Orlando generally manages to find success with his own 4-3. Here it is in action in the Poinsettia Bowl.

Biggest wins

  • UConn 22, #11 South Florida 15 (10/27/07): Remember this crazy season when the Bulls were considered the best team in Florida for a week? The Huskies made life difficult for Matt Grothe, grabbing two interceptions and also making two huge stands at the goal-line to secure the upset.
  • UConn 40, Cincinnati 16 (10/25/08): The Husky defense absolutely clammed up Brian Kelly's unit this time around.
  • UConn 33, Notre Dame 30 (double overtime, 11/21/09): The game that kicked Charlie Weis out of Notre Dame for good. After falling behind 14-0, the Huskies shut down the Irish offense, holding them to six points in regulation in the final 45 minutes and won in South Bend.
  • UConn 20, South Carolina 7 (1/2/10): Papa John's Bowl! South Carolina and Stephen Garcia did precisely nothing, putting up 12 first downs and just over 200 yards on offense.

  • Florida International 24, Louisville 17 (9/9/11): It's crazy to think the loser of this game is now the Texas head coach. But FIU managed to stun a Cardinals team in transition by holding them to 2.3 yards per rush.
  • Utah State 21, Northern Illinois 14 (12/26/13): Northern Illinois rolled through the MAC scoring no less than 27 points in any of their games, and Utah State's defense bottled Jordan Lynch (216 yards passing but just 39 yards rushing) up.


Orlando stepped into a pretty ideal situation in Utah State. Dave Aranda left for Wisconsin along with Gary Andersen, but left Orlando with a lot of impressive talent, particularly four of the team's five leading tacklers and three top linebackers (who were the top three tacklers this season). Seven of Utah State's eleven top tacklers were seniors.

The anomalous data point is his final year at Florida International in 2012, where Orlando returned most of his defense but saw the team regress defensively, costing the Panthers several chances at victories and another return bowl berth. It's a bit concerning, but then you realize it's Florida International and winning seasons don't come around all that often (two in 12 years).

What's most concerning is the level of competition. Mid-decade Big East wasn't exactly a cauldron of college football seismic activity. His record against the best teams wasn't exactly sterling.

  • Orlando's defenses got trucked by Rich Rod and West Virginia, losing 45-13, 37-11, and 66-21. He did marginally better against Bill Stewart's teams though, but still went only 1-2. (For good measure, Orlando lost to Rich Rod again when he was at Michigan.) It's nice that we don't play Arizona that much, but this conference is all about spread these days, so I'd hope Orlando has learned a bit.
  • UConn won the weakest Big East in memory, going 8-4, getting shut out by Louisville, and losing to Temple of all pieces. Orlando's final game with the Huskies was at the Fiesta Bowl, where UConn got trucked by Oklahoma 48-20.
  • Florida International offered up similar issues. There just wasn't a lot of upper-tier competition for Orlando to worry about.

The nice news is that Utah State did provide Orlando with a set of decent to impressive offenses to work against in the Mountain West. After the Buh debacle, it seems like it makes more sense to hire a coach with familiarity in the West Coast. Orlando's defenses performed pretty well against Utah and still-Kiffined USC and had chances to beat both opponents, but Travis Wilson led an impressive fourth quarter comeback and USC's defense shut down the spread. He has gained the requisite experience to be decently familiar with the West Coast environment.

    How much would he cost?

    According to current data on assistant coach's salaries, Orlando is set to make about $204,240 this year. That is well within the pay range for Cal, making him one of the most affordable hires Cal can get.

    The big question is whether it would result in an Andy Buh buyout situation, which would cost quite a bit. Cal has also set a bit of a precedent with how much they'll pay their defensive coordinator, and it's significantly more than what Orlando is getting from Utah State. If Dykes thinks he's the guy, I doubt money will be an issue.

    Recruiting and development

    I'm not sure about how good a recruiter Orlando is (data on UConn and FIU is a bit scarce), but he's definitely developed quality linebackers over the years.

    During his two years at FIU, Orlando mentored five players who earned various all-Sun Belt Conference honors a total of seven times including safety Jonathan Cyprien and defensive lineman Tourek Williams who both earned first-team all-league honors this past season.

    Cyprien also played in the 2013 Senior Bowl, along with former Aggie Will Davis, and was selected by the Jacksonville Jaguars with the 33rd pick of the 2013 NFL Draft.


    Orlando's work with middle linebacker Danny Lansanah in 2007 helped earn the senior a free agent contract with the Green Bay Packers and later a spot on the Packers active roster, while weakside linebacker Lawrence Wilson was named a second-team Freshman All-American.

    While at Connecticut, Orlando also mentored linebacker Razul Wallace who set a single-season school record in tackles for loss in 2000, earning consensus national Division I-A all-Independent honors. Orlando also helped both Alfred Fincher and Maurice Lloyd earn all-Independent status in 2003 and all-Big East recognition in 2004. As two of the top tacklers in school history, the pair anchored the Big East's leading defense in 2004 en route to a Motor City Bowl berth. In 2005, Fincher was chosen in the third round by the New Orleans Saints, becoming the first Husky drafted in 11 years.

    Mic'ed up

    He sounds the part of a good coach.


    I imagine if Cal were to hire Orlando, Dykes would allow him to coach a particular position along with his defensive coordinator responsibilities. If it's linebackers that he wants, Buh would probably be searching for a new home and the Bears will have to figure out his buyout situation. If it's safeties or defensive backs, that job is wide open too. Two birds, one stone, all that jazz.

    I would be comfortable with this hire but a little guarded as to whether Orlando would be an instant success. I do like the fact that he's been able to do more with less, which Cal will need a lot of for at least the next two seasons.

    What are your thoughts on Orlando? Would you be satisfied with him as our new Cal defensive coordinator?