EUGENE – Ron Aiken, who spent the past six years among the most respected defensive line mentors in the NFL while accumulating 23 years of experience as a defensive assistant at the Division I and professional levels, has been named defensive line coach at the University of Oregon, according to the Ducks’ head football coach Mark Helfrich.
The 57-year-old South Carolina native replaces Jerry Azzinaro, who left the program to pursue other coaching opportunities.
Aiken joins 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).
“Ron Aiken is an icon in the defensive line community,” Helfrich said. “His vast experience – coaching in all phases at the high school, college and pro level – will complement our current staff.
“When speaking with former colleagues and players he coached, three words came up every time: fundamentals, respect and character. We are excited to welcome Ron and his wife, Sheryl, into the Oregon family.”
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.) this past season. 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.
In Aiken’s first year at Arizona, it finished ninth in the NFL in rushing defense (97.9 avg.) in 2007 after ranking 16th the previous year.
“This is a great opportunity for me to be at the University of Oregon and to assist with the continuation of the success they have enjoyed here,” Aiken said. “Wherever I have coached, my goal has always been to do what I can to help win football games. I love teaching the fundamentals of the game as well as coming up with the schemes that will contribute to the development of young men.”
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.), along with seventh in scoring defense (16.2 avg.) and 16th in total defense (314.5 avg.) in 2003, and 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 College (Kan.) 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 (OK) 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.
He and his wife, Sheryl, have three sons – Matthew, Stephen and Joshua.