Don’t feel bad if you were in the group of Tiger fans whose first reaction to hearing Daronte Jones’ name being tossed around as LSU’s new defensive coordinator was: “Who is that?”
Jones isn’t necessarily a household name among football fans and probably wasn’t at the top of most supporters’ wish lists to fill the vacancy a few months back. But just because we all weren’t well-versed in Jones’ coaching lineage doesn’t mean the hire isn’t an exciting one for Tiger Nation.
After one year as a graduate assistant for Lenoir-Rhyne University in North Carolina, the Capital Heights, Maryland, native began his coaching career just an hour down the road at Nicholls State as its safeties coach. He stayed in Louisiana two more seasons as the defensive coordinator for Franklin High School and then Jeanerette High School before climbing back into the college ranks at Bowie State.
For the next 10 years, he bounced around a variety of different jobs at multiple levels, eventually working his way into the NFL, coaching defensive backs for the Miami Dolphins, Cincinnati Bengals and most recently, Minnesota Vikings.
“When I was here in Louisiana, everyone wanted to be a part of [LSU’s] program,” Jones said at his introductory press conference. “To be a part of such tradition that they have here in terms of the defensive tradition, attacking style and the players you’re going to get from the state of Louisiana. You have the chance to get the best players in the country, as you see on this upcoming Sunday with the Super Bowl participants.”
Jones will have plenty of that talent to work with when LSU takes the field for its season opener in September. The Tigers are expected to return roughly 10 of its 11 starters from the 2020 defense, which—despite its struggles—boasts tons of top-tier talents across all three levels.
But as many LSU fans learned a year ago, it’s not just about having the talent, but rather figuring out how to best utilize it on the field.
“There’s so many four- and five-star athletes on this roster,” Jones says. “That’s not the case, really, in the NFL. There can be arguably more first-round picks on this ball club than any NFL team. They just have to be developed. But the talent is there. The SEC West is like another [NFL] division at the end of the day. But we still have to develop the talent. They come in as a four- or five-star athlete, but now it’s our job to get them to play and prepare and perform as a four- and five-star athlete.”
So how does Jones plan to do that?
“Do everything as violent as possible.”
That phrase stuck out among the rest of Jones’ answers from his opening press conference as he described how he wanted his defense to play.
The Tigers will operate out of a base 4-3 defense (meaning four defensive lineman and three linebackers) under Jones. But more than anything, the 41-year-old coach wants to maximize each player’s skill sets in order to put them in positions to impact the game.
“Players first. Scheme second,” Jones says. “We want to put our guys in the best position to make plays. We want to minimize error, make sure we’re over-communicating, have an attacking-style defense where we can dictate the terms and play fast. These guys are here for their athletic ability. We’re going to give them some techniques and fundamentals, and we’re going to harp on that. We’re going to be very detailed in that. The biggest thing we want to do is do everything as violent as possible. That’s the aggressive mindset we want to set going forward.”
Despite his roughly 19 years of coaching experience, it’s been more than a decade since Jones was a defensive coordinator and even then, it was at a Division II Bowie State.
That might be a slight cause for concern for some Tiger fans, but the young coach does come with some high praise from his former stops.
Minnesota head coach Mike Zimmer called him a “terrific coach” in his end-of-the-year press conference, while five-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro safety Harrison Smith also spoke highly of LSU’s new defensive coordinator.
“He’s been earning his money this year,” Smith told SportsIllustrated in January. “He does a really good job of communicating exactly what we need to get done and things that we can expect while also not overloading the group with things that can bog you down. There can be a balance there based on just experience levels. He’s been doing a great job of starting at the fundamentals and expanding from there and giving us enough information to grow without handicapping us.”
Along with Jones came the introduction of linebackers coach Blake Baker and defensive line coach Andre Carter.
Baker joins the LSU staff after two seasons at Miami as the Hurricanes’ defensive coordinator. Baker said he “absolutely” could have stayed at Miami another year, but his close ties to Louisiana made LSU too enticing to pass up.
The 38-year-old coach isn’t a Louisiana native, but he played football at Tulane from 2000 to 2004. His wife, Roslyn, is from Mandeville and was also an All-SEC soccer player at LSU.
“I’ll be honest with you: I wasn’t looking to leave Miami,” Baker said at the joint press conference. “This is the only job I would’ve left Miami for. The ability for my wife to be so close to home—we’ve got three kids: (ages) 6, 3 and 1. So, bless her heart. She’s the real MVP. A lot of her best friends still live between here, Mandeville and Lafayette. I have a lot of family in Covington, Madisonville, Mandeville. So it’s a dream come true to be able to come home and have the support that we have. When I told her, she was crying tears of joy to be able to do that. And the old saying: happy wife, happy life. We’re fired up to be here.”
Baker hopes to bring that same fire to the football field.
At the time of the press conference, he had only had one real opportunity to meet the Tigers’ crop of linebacker talent, but Baker liked what he saw.
“I think there’s really the opportunity to work with a bunch of talent, a lot of youth,” Baker says. “The first thing I always want to look for is toughness. Are they tough? You want ‘em to have good length, good speed. They have to be able to play in space, the ability to make open-field tackles. Then, high-character guys. I really believe that if a guy is willing to come in and work and take care of his business, he’s going to be a really great player one day.”
Carter had a similar response after his first time scoping out LSU’s deep talent pool on the defensive line.
The 13-year NFL veteran comes from a world of experience at the highest level, having played for five different professional franchises and coaching with two others.
Carter and Jones were both assistants with the Miami Dolphins together, so that working relationship has already been formed. The two will hope to continue that camaraderie while building something special in their coaching careers and in Baton Rouge.
“I just wanted to continue my journey to develop and learn football,” Carter says. “I’m happy to reconnect with Daronte Jones, who I worked with with the Miami Dolphins. And I think that in general, whether you’re a former player, or a player in general, or a coach, you want growth. You want to aim for something more higher. So it’s in a sense, more laterally, but it’s just more improvement as far as just developing my game, and it’s an honor.”