Ron Aiken wasted little time in fortifying the interior trenches of Oregon’s defense after bringing with him 23 years of experience as a defensive assistant at the Division I and professional levels.
The six-year NFL veteran assistant utilized a subtle demeanor to excel as a technician to bring out the best among a group of returnees in his first season, with all three of his departed headliners earning invitations into NFL camps.
Arik Armstead became Aiken’s latest student to benefit from his expertise as he progressed throughout last year to emerge as a first-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. Armstead posted nine tackles in the CFP National Championship game vs. Ohio State.
Taylor Hart finished fourth on the team in tackles in 2013, with his 75 stops representing the program’s most by an interior lineman in more than two decades. A fifth-round NFL draft choice by Philadelphia, the second-team all-league choice was joined by teammate Wade Keliikipi among those who received all-conference attention.
Those numbers were bettered last year by returnee DeForest Buckner, who accumulated 81 takedowns, including 13 tackles for loss.
Oregon’s interior line helped account for the program’s defenders improving to third in the Pac-12 in total defense (37th nationally) in 2013 after ranking sixth in 2012, as well as tied for fourth in opponents’ first downs compared with seventh the previous year.
The 59-year-old South Carolina native joined the Ducks following six seasons as defensive line coach with the Arizona Cardinals of the National Football League (2007-12) and eight years tutoring the defensive line at the University of Iowa (1999-2006).
During his NFL tenure, he played a role in the development of three-time All-Pro defensive tackle Darnell Dockett, who led the league’s interior linemen in quarterback sacks in 2007 (9) and 2009 (7), and tied the franchise record for most sacks in a single season by a defensive tackle the former year. Aiken also aided in the emergence of defensive end Calais Campbell, who led or shared the team lead in QB takedowns in 2011 (8), 2010 (6) and 2009 (7) before pacing all Arizona linemen in 2012 (6.5).
The Cardinals tied for 11th in the NFL with 38 sacks and were 12th in total defense (337.8 avg.) in 2012. They ranked in the upper half of the league in quarterback sacks in five of his six campaigns in Phoenix, including sixth and seventh in the NFL in 2009 (43) and 2011 (42), respectively.
At Iowa, Aiken was honored as the Division I Assistant Coach of the Year by the American Football Coaches Association in 2002, helping the Hawkeyes to six straight post-season appearances from 2001-06. The program ranked among the nation’s top eight teams against the run from 2002-04, allowing opponents fewer than 100 yards per game rushing each year, and rated among the top three programs in the Big Ten Conference in rushing defense from 2001-2005.
Iowa ranked fifth in the country in rushing defense in 2002 (81.9 avg.) and 2004 (92.5 avg.), seventh in scoring defense (16.2 avg.) and 16th in total defense (314.5 avg.) in 2003, along with 11th in total defense (293.8 avg.) and 16th in scoring defense (17.6 avg.) in ’04.
During his Iowa City stint he tutored a quintet of future NFL players, including two-time (2006-07) Pro Bowl pick Aaron Kampman (Green Bay) and Jonathan Babineaux, who ranked second in the country in tackles for loss (25) as a collegian in 2004. In addition, he coached one All-American and seven first-team Big Ten all-conference selections in his eight seasons there.
Prior to joining the Hawkeyes, Aiken coached linebackers at San Diego State in 1998, where all three of his linebackers earned all-conference accolades; tutored the defensive tackles at Texas in 1997; worked with the defensive line at Vanderbilt in 1995 and ’96; and oversaw the linebackers and defensive ends at New Mexico from 1990-94.
The 1977 graduate of North Carolina A&T broke into the profession as an offensive line coach at Boiling Springs (S.C.) High School that fall before becoming head coach at Greensville County (Va.) High School in 1979. He migrated to the collegiate ranks as offensive line and special teams coach at Bethany (Kan.) College in 1980 prior to becoming the offensive coordinator at Tarkio (Mo.) College in 1982, spent one season as special team’s coordinator at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (N.Y.) in 1985, and then served as head coach at Langston (Okla.) University from 1986-89.
Aiken was an all-conference offensive lineman and 1976 team captain at North Carolina A&T, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in history before receiving a masters in secondary education from The Citadel in 1982.