NORMAN — Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley said he was so focused on last week’s Orange Bowl that the upcoming decision to hire a defensive coordinator didn’t cross his mind much the past month.
But it surely is now.
The college football coaching carousel moves quickly, and while Riley says he’ll take his time finding the right person, that doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen sooner rather than later.
Here’s a look at five candidates who might steer OU’s defense next season:
• Alex Grinch
• Current position: Ohio State co-defensive coordinator/safeties coach
• The skinny: Grinch, 37, has been one of the more talked-about candidates for the job lately after his first season with the Buckeyes.
Ohio State ranked 72nd in total defense this fall, which wasn’t much better than West Virginia (74th). But that caliber of defense was better than OU’s (114th) and could have been enough to push the Sooners into the national title game.
Grinch is known as a high-energy guy and his youth is an important tool on the recruiting trail.
He cut his teeth at Washington State, where he produced big results as defensive coordinator from 2015-17. The Cougars were 97th nationally in total defense when Grinch arrived and 16th by the time he moved on to Ohio State.
Originally from Grove City, Ohio, would Grinch leave home to restart OU’s defense?
• Pete Golding
• Current position: Alabama co-defensive coordinator/inside linebackers coach
• The skinny: Another young (34 years old) co-defensive coordinator who just finished his first season at a blueblood program. Golding’s name was tied to OU’s job for a while, but that momentum has slowed.
He’s still a great candidate — a personable guy, proven recruiter with head coaching ambitions and with proven results. At UTSA, his 2017 defense was seventh in the FBS allowing just 287.8 yards per game.
But it’s difficult to envision him leaving Alabama coach Nick Saban. Golding and others realize working for Saban’s coaching tree leads to bigger and better things. Just ask Georgia’s Kirby Smart and Tennessee’s Jeremy Pruitt.
• Bob Diaco
• Current position: OU outside linebackers coach
• The skinny: He’s the one person internally who makes sense, with no disrespect to Ruffin McNeill.
Diaco was hired initially as a defensive analyst, but moved to the field when OU made its coordinator change midseason. Ever since, Diaco’s done well connecting with players and Riley seems to enjoy him.
Diaco has been a head coach (UConn) and defensive coordinator (Nebraska, Notre Dame). He won the Broyles Award for the nation’s top assistant in 2012, when Notre Dame allowed 12.8 points per game and surrendered a nation-best 15 offensive touchdowns.
Though he fielded a porous defense at Nebraska in 2017, Diaco’s had success at this level before and would seemingly jump at the opportunity if given one at OU.
Why not McNeill? Players adore him, but at 60 years old he may not be far from retirement. That could be a tough sell on the recruiting trail.
• Morgan Scalley
• Current position: Utah defensive coordinator/safeties
• The skinny: Scalley just finished his third year leading the Utes’ defense. He developed a reputation for signing quality talent while serving as recruiting coordinator from 2009-15.
Utah finished 15th nationally in total defense this season. Its 4.62 yards per play allowed ranked eighth among the top 15.
Does Scalley want to leave Utah, though? He played there from 2001-04 and began work there as a graduate assistant in 2007. He might be a company man at this point.
• Tim DeRuyter
• Current position: Cal defensive coordinator/outside linebackers
• The skinny: DeRuyter’s been in the business 28 years. In 2017, his first Cal defense gave up 14 points less per game than the previous season. This fall, the Bears were 16th nationally in total defense and allowed 4.59 yards per play.
Even more appealing, at least in OU’s case, is Cal ranked sixth nationally with 28 turnovers gained in 2018. The Sooners had 11.
DeRuyter interviewed for the Houston head-coaching job, so he’s open to other possibilities. Whether that’s in Norman is another question. He may not want another coordinator position for his next step.