The first domino has fallen in the Bruins revamping their defensive staff.
UCLA football (8-4, 6-3 Pac-12) defensive line coach Johnny Nansen has agreed to become the next defensive coordinator at Arizona., the team announced Wednesday morning. Nansen had held the position with the Bruins since March 2020.
The Wildcats had their defensive coordinator, Don Brown, poached by UMass, who made Brown their next head coach on Nov. 22.
Under Nansen, UCLA's run defense ranked No. 2 in the Pac-12 in 2020 and No. 3 in 2021. The 2020 Bruins also led the Pac-12 in sacks per game with 3.3. Otito Ogbonnia and Datona Jackson set career-highs across the board in 2021, and Odua Isibor had some of the best single-game performances of his five-year career as well.
Nansen initially came over to Westwood from USC, where he held a collection of different titles across six seasons, including assistant head coach and run game coordinator. Nansen had a reputation as being one of the top defensive recruiters on the West Coast, and he certainly brought that reputation along with him when he joined UCLA.
Considering he was hired after the 2020 signing day and left before the 2022 early signing period, the 2021 class is the only one Nansen saw through to completion. Counting true freshman USC transfer Jay Toia as a member of the recruiting class, UCLA's top-three recruits in the 2021 cycle were all defensive linemen.
Toia, Tiaoalii Savea and Quintin Somerville were all four-star recruits, top 250 players and top 35 defensive linemen in the country, according to the 247Sports Composite. While Somerville missed the entire 2021 season with a foot injury, Toia and Savea managed to find significant playing time in an interior defensive line crowded with returning starters and veterans.
Nansen's departure for Tucson marks the first change on coach Chip Kelly's staff this offseason, and it likely won't be the last vacancy that opens up on that side of the ball. Several reports have surfaced that part of Kelly's potential extension talks will hinge on him making a change at defensive coordinator, either firing Jerry Azzinaro or pushing him towards retirement.
As a result, it seems unlikely UCLA will find a new defensive line coach until the defensive coordinator spot is worked out.
The Bruins do not have a single defensive line commit as part of their upcoming 2022 recruiting class, and without a defensive coordinator or position coach to actively recruit, they are not in a position to reel one in before the early signing period opens up Dec. 17.