Lincoln Riley just made the biggest call of his two seasons as Oklahoma head coach.
His decision to hire Alex Grinch as Oklahoma’s defensive coordinator carries major implications. If you want to know why so much rides on Riley’s decision, remember that with an even average defense, OU might have been playing for a national title the last couple of seasons. Oklahoma confirmed the hire Friday evening.
As a bonus, the choice of Grinch immediately created all kinds of Seuss-ian references and puns on the Internet. Your defense had better be a mean one, Mr. Grinch. OK, that’s enough.
Grinch takes over a historically bad defense that was last in the Big 12 (!) in both total defense and pass efficiency defense under the fired Mike Stoop and interim coordinator Ruffin McNeill. Don’t trust the stats? Pop in a tape of the Rose Bowl against Georgia or the Orange Bowl against Alabama or even the Red River Showdown from October. Oklahoma’s defense was a liability even with the offense fielding back-to-back Heisman winners.
Riley could have gone a number of directions at DC but Grinch, 38, is an intriguing hire, young and innovative like the head coach.
Even though Grinch spent last season as co-defensive coordinator at Ohio State, he took a bad Washington State defense to top 20 status from 2015-17. His final unit at Washington State, which should have far less talent than what he’ll have at OU based on recruiting rankings, finished 16th in the FBS in total defense. His defense forced 28 turnovers and was known for swarming the ball. This season, a way-too-passive Oklahoma defense had an anemic 11 turnovers in addition to countless missed tackles.
“Taking that defense where he did in a short amount of time is one of the best coaching jobs in the country over the last several years,” Riley said.
Plus, as Big 12 fans know all too well, being a defensive coordinator in Mike Leach’s scheme isn’t easy and Grinch excelled. He should be able to do the same under Riley.
That said, an Oklahoma defensive resurgence will take time. Tommie Harris and Gerald McCoy aren’t walking through that door, although Riley has recruited well on defense. Grinch undoubtedly will rearrange staff. Still, the building blocks are there.
How Grinch does might be the difference between Oklahoma’s first national title since the 2000 season and more playoff disappointments.
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