Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley has apparently landed a major hire at defensive coordinator. Bruce Feldman of The Athletic reports that Ohio State’s star co-defensive coordinator Alex Grinch will take over the Sooners’ defense for 2019. There have been rumblings that Riley, who fired Mike Stoops midseason following a loss to Texas, has been eyeing Grinch for some time.
Assuming that the details of Grinch’s deal are the only thing keeping this from an official announcement, this would be an absolute home run hire for Riley. Oklahoma’s defense, of course, was historically bad in the College Football Playoff era. Following the Orange Bowl loss to Alabama, the Sooners ended the season ranked 101st in points allowed per game, 102nd in yards per play allowed, 107th in points per drive allowed, 121st in turnovers forced and dead last in red zone touchdown percentage.
Yikes. But there’s good news ahead …
Grinch should alleviate the number problems. In Grinch, Oklahoma would get a proven defensive mind that laid the groundwork for Washington State’s rise in the Pac-12 North division. Prior to Grinch’s arrival in 2015, the Cougars gave up 38.6 points per game, 10th in the Pac-12. By 2016, that number rose to 26.4 points per game. In 2017, it rose again to 25.8 points per game. This past season, with Grinch’s fingerprints still evident, the Cougars allowed only 23.3 points per game. Washington State has also been one of the better teams in turnovers gained in the Pac-12 over the past three years, ranking in the top four in each of the past four years.
Riley needed to nail this hire, and he did. There’s no denying that Riley is quickly becoming one of college football’s premier coaches. He’s led the Sooners to back-to-back Big 12 titles, playoff appearances and coached consecutive Heisman winners in Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray. Since arriving as offensive coordinator in 2015, his offenses have finished in the top five nationally in points per game and No. 1 in yards per play in back-to-back years. What’s been holding him back from achieving even more, obviously, has been the defense. It’s a problem that requires a long-term vision to fix, and part of that was hiring a top-flight coordinator. Riley nailed that part of the equation, and Oklahoma just got better on that side of the ball. This is the hire that can launch Riley into the upper-most echelon of college football coaches as he makes the program his own.
The next step is recruiting. While a change in leadership was necessary on defense, the fact of the matter is Oklahoma also needs to revamp its recruiting on that side of the ball. About half of Oklahoma’s 2019 signing class so far — ranked seventh nationally, per 247Sports — is made up of defensive players, and half of the blue-chip prospects are on defense. Continuing to win on the recruiting trail defensively to fill out the two-deep is the only way Grinch’s hire really takes off.