In the wake of Mike Stoops’ dismissal as defensive coordinator of the Oklahoma Sooners, Alex Grinch’s name came up early and often in conversations about a permanent hire. The possibility was dismissed out of hand by at least one looped-in member of the national media:
I just can’t stop gazing into Bob Diaco’s eyes. Can’t read anything else.
(Grinch, by the way, isn’t leaving Ohio State. Natural successor to Schiano and moved to Ohio largery for family reasons).
— Adam Rittenberg (@ESPNRittenberg) October 17, 2018
Even I admit that when I wrote in October about the Ohio State Buckeyes co-defensive coordinator as a candidate to fill OU’s vacancy, it felt like a pipe dream. It might have been at the time, but Lincoln Riley turned it into a reality on Friday when it was reported that Grinch would be joining OU’s staff as head honcho of the defense.
My knee-jerk reaction to the hire hasn’t really changed in the past few months:
I don’t share the same level of enthusiasm for his candidacy that seems to be running rampant in the pundit and fan classes. Ohio State’s defense has taken a few steps back since he arrived there in the offseason to share coordinator duties with Greg Schiano, falling from eighth last year to 41st in the nation in Defensive S&P+ through seven games this year.
Normally, I’d say OU head coach Lincoln Riley would have no shot at prying Grinch away from the Buckeyes, but that has changed in the wake of the Schiano-Tennessee debacle earlier this year. It would likely involve paying him a base salary north of a million bucks, however.
To be clear, I wouldn’t be upset at all if OU hired Grinch. I just don’t think he is a grand slam.
If that comes off as skeptical, it shouldn’t – at least not beyond the healthy variety of skepticism. I frankly don’t know if a “grand slam hire” really exists for coaching defense in the Big 12.
Grinch, however, checks a lot of the boxes you’d want to see in OU’s new defensive coordinator.
He has a strong track record.
The Washington State Cougars improved immediately on defense when Grinch took over in 2015. Peep the difference in Wazzu’s raw defensive numbers (yards per play, points per game and points per play) from 2014 to the next three years.
WSU’s defensive efficiency rankings tell a similar story about Grinch’s time in Pullman.
The Cougars’ record also improved from 3-9 in 2014 to 9-4, 8-5 and 9-4 in the next three seasons. Given that the guy running the offense didn’t change, it’s probably fair to assume the defense – and Luke Falk – had a big hand in that.
(Okay, I’m starting to like this hire even more after looking at those numbers.)
Grinch has the imprimatur that comes from working for some of college football’s top coaches.
Missouri Tigers head coach Gary Pinkel had Grinch, his nephew, on board as safeties coach for three years from 2012-2014, a stretch that saw Mizzou punch well above its weight class on defense. Grinch’s handiwork in Columbia obviously caught the eye of Mike Leach.
After three seasons with the Pirate, Grinch was scooped up by Urban Meyer as the heir apparent to Greg Schiano at Ohio State. Zach Smith aside, Meyer has demonstrated an eye for identifying coaching talent in his career.
He has a coherent defensive philosophy that has worked with an Air Raid offense.
I won’t pretend to be all that well-versed in “Speed D”. However, you can read this excellent breakdown of Grinch’s scheme from Eleven Warriors to learn more about his Xs-and-Os acumen.
The fact that Wazzu had success pairing Grinch’s D with Leach’s uptempo spread offense in a relatively wide-open conference has to be considered a major plus (and perhaps makes him a better fit than Pete Golding). Equally important, Grinch now has an opportunity to impose his blueprint on the OU defense. That could result in an adjustment period in the fall, but it should be a welcome change in the longer term from the ever-shifting systems employed by the previous administration.
Of course, a couple unanswered questions remain regarding the hire.
What happened in Columbus?
For all of Grinch’s success with the Cougars, you can’t ignore how poorly the Buckeyes played on defense in 2018, his one season with the team. OSU dropped from eighth in Defensive S&P+ in 2017 to 34th the following year.
A lot of the blame there likely falls at the feet of Schiano because of his tenure and the fact that he was tasked with calling the D. Still, Grinch has to bear some responsibility for the collapse.
Can he recruit?
Riley stressed the need for the Sooners to have recruiting dynamos on the coaching staff going forward. Presumably, he feels comfortable that Grinch has what it takes.
Recruiting at Wazzu and Mizzou is a different ballgame from trying to land the top-tier studs OU is chasing, though, and Grinch didn’t stay at OSU long enough to make much of a dent in the talent acquisition department.
What will Grinch do about the coaching staff?
In addition to Grinch, OU will see more turnover among the defensive position coaches. Riley ultimately signs off on his assistants, but Grinch will still have a big say in the new hires.
We’ll probably find out what kind of network Grinch has in the profession in the coming weeks.
So, yes, there are a few unknowns about Grinch and how he will work out at Oklahoma. That’s always a given. All in all, it’s hard to find fault with Riley’s call here.