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Arizona football defensive coordinator Johnny Nansen departs for Texas after three seasons with the Wildcats

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Nathanial Stenchever

Jedd Fisch, head coach of the Arizona football team, watches his team on Nov. 19, at Arizona Stadium. The Wildcats would lose 20-31. 

The Arizona football team is navigating another coaching transition as defensive coordinator Johnny Nansen departs for the University of Texas at Austin. According to 247Sports, Nansen is set to become the co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach for the Longhorns, filling the vacancy left by Jeff Choate, who recently assumed the head coaching position at the University of Nevada.

Nansen took the reins as Arizona football’s defensive coordinator on Dec. 1, 2021, and his impact was immediate. Once aboard with the Wildcats, Nansen played a pivotal role in shaping the team’s future. His influence was particularly evident in the construction of Arizona‘s 2022 signing class, which not only ranked second in the Pac-12 but also 22nd nationally. This class marked a historic moment for the program, boasting the first-ever five-star signee.

During his two-season tenure at Arizona, Nansen played a crucial role in revitalizing the Wildcats’ defense. In 2023, the team achieved a remarkable turnaround, ranking 29th in the Football Bowl Subdivision in scoring defense, allowing only 21.08 points per game compared to the previous year’s 36.5. This defensive resurgence significantly contributed to Arizona‘s impressive 10-3 record, marking the program’s fourth 10-win season in school history.

Nansen‘s defensive strategies took center stage in the Valero Alamo Bowl, where Arizona‘s defense forced six takeaways, leading to 28 points in a memorable comeback victory over the No. 12 University of Oklahoma.

The departure of Nansen leaves Arizona head coach Jedd Fisch facing the task of hiring a third defensive coordinator in four seasons. With the expectation that the Wildcats will return with the bulk of their defensive starters for the upcoming season, the possibility of promoting from within adds an intriguing dimension to the coaching transition. Veteran assistant Duane Akina, with a history as Arizona‘s defensive backs coach under Dick Tomey from 1996-2000 and co-defensive coordinator with Texas from 2005-07, emerges as a strong candidate.

Nansen‘s journey takes him to Texas, where he will reunite with longtime friend and Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian. The Longhorns, concluding the season with a 12-2 record, fell to the University of Washington in the College Football Playoff semifinal at the Sugar Bowl.

Nansen had a significant impact on the defensive success of the Wildcats in 2023 and his departure is a difficult one. As the program seeks stability amid coaching changes, the search for a new defensive coordinator becomes a crucial task for Fisch to maintain the positive trajectory established over the past few years.


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