Oklahoma football coach Lincoln Riley appears secure in his job for the time being — not that he was considering going anywhere — but what about defensive coordinator Alex Grinch?
Don’t get this wrong. Grinch is not on the hot seat as far as the Sooners are concerned, but there are others who could be hot on his trail for a potential head coaching job.
The announcement this week that Mike Leach is leaving Washington State to become the new head coach at Mississippi State has sparked speculation that Grinch could be looked at as a possible replacement.
Leach, who was the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma in Bob Stoops’ first season in 1999 before taking the head coach’s job at Texas Tech a year later, has been at Washington State eight seasons. Over that time, his teams won 55 games, lost 47 and made six postseason bowl appearances.
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Leach inherited a Wazzou team that was 3-9 in 2011, the year before he arrived, and 1-8 in the Pac-12 and turned the program around. The Cougars became the West Coast version of what Leach popularized at Texas Tech, a wide-open, pass-heavy offense best known as the Air Raid. In the last five seasons under Leach, Washington State has become a contender instead of a pretender for the Pac-12 title, compiling an overall record of 43-22.
Now the football job in Pullman, Washington, is open, and it just might end up with the man the Sooners were counting on to rebuild the defense and return that unit to relevancy and worthy of the elite Oklahoma football brand.
Despite what happened in OU’s demoralizing 63-28 trampling by LSU in the College Football Playoff national semifinals a fortnight ago, there is no question that the Oklahoma defense was better in 2019 than it was the year or two before.
The Sooners improved in total defense almost across the board. Here are a few examples:
- From 114th among FBS teams in 2018 (allowing 453.8 yards per game) to 38th this past season (356.4 yards per game);
- Passing yards allowed per game:, from 130th (290.0) in 2018 to 59th (222.4);
- Opponents’ third-down conversion percentage, from 119th (46.38) to 15th (31.64), and
- Tackles for loss, from 57th (79) to 9th (104).
Washington State has begin its search for Leach’s replacement. While Grinch won’t be the only candidate considered for the job, he will be one with whom Wazzou officials will be most familiar. And that familiarity if mutual.
Grinch was the defensive coordinator and secondary coach at Washington State on Leach’s staff from 2015 to 2017, and he led a major improvement in the Cougars’ defense. In 2014, the year before Grinch arrived in Pullman, WSU ranked 99th in the country in total defense, allowing 442 yards per game, and 127th in pass defense, giving up 297 yards through the air.
Two years later, in 2017, Washington State ranked 16th nationally in total defense (323 yards per game) and ninth in passing defense (171 yards allowed per game).
A limitation that Grinch has is his 15 seasons in college coaching have all been on the defensive side of the ball. If Washington State were to hire Grinch as head coach, it would have to find or promote someone to offensive coordinator, because Leach called the offensive plays and filled that role in addition to his head coaching duties.
Several other head-coaching candidates that WSU might consider interviewing are Bryan Harsin, currently the head coach at Boise State, Seth Littrell, head coach at North Texas, and a former Oklahoma running back (1997-2000), Jim McElwain, former Florida head coach and now the head coach at Central Michigan, Jim Mora, head coach at UCLA from 2012-17 and now a college football analyst at ESPN, and Eric Bieniemy, offensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs.
It’s far from a slam dunk that Grinch would get the nod, especially considering that this is a Power Five Conference team and he has never been a head coach at any level. He does have some factors weighing in his favor, however.
Sooner fans certainly wish the best for Grinch and his family, but it would be a shame to lose him before he is able to finish the job he set out to do.