A KEEN ONE
New OU coordinator defined by competitiveness, adaptability
In the days after Alex Grinch was hired as Oklahoma’s defensive coordinator, his uncle wondered what would have happened had a group of his assistants not talked him into hiring Grinch after the 2011 season.
But former Missouri coach Gary Pinkel might never have reached that crossroads if it weren’t for another pivotal moment in Grinch’s life more than a decade before.
Grinch was a quarterback in Grove City, Ohio, a working-class suburb on the southwest side of Columbus, who had served his time as a backup and expected to be the starter.
But early in that season, Grinch lost out on the job to a younger player.
Grinch could’ve returned to his backup role, but instead he moved over to the defensive side and became a standout safety for the Greyhounds.
“He put his heart and soul into that season at the safety position,” said Scott McIntire, Grove City’s offensive coordinator at the time. “Just the way he bounced back from the disappointment of not winning the quarterback job and seized the opportunity to become a safety, that’s really what set him up as a college football player.”
Brian Cross was Grove City’s head coach when Grinch was there and was also Grinch’s freshman
“Was just a big-time team player,” Cross said. “You couldn’t ask for a better kid. He was a great leader and a great ambassador for our school.”
McIntire might not have expected Grinch to take to playing safety the way he did, but he was far from surprised.
He’d already seen Grinch improvise athletically.
McIntire was the school’s tennis coach.
“We didn’t necessarily have a traditional tennis community with country club and club players,” McIntire said. “So I always recruited football players and soccer kids and basketball players to play.”
In Grinch, McIntire found a willing student.
Grinch wound up being a regular in the Greyhounds’ doubles lineup, pairing with the center from the football team as a sophomore and a soccer player his final two seasons. He was also Grove City’s point guard.
After high school, Grinch went to Mount Union, where he grew a couple more inches and helped the Purple Raiders win three NCAA Division III football titles under legendary coach Larry Kehres.
Randy Ponder wasn’t sure what to expect from Grinch after Grinch replaced Barry Odom as Missouri’s safeties coach in 2012.
But Grinch quickly won over the defensive back from Edmond.
“He knew everything to the most minute detail,” Ponder said.
Ponder quickly found out he’d need to brush up on his math skills.
“He’s real big angles,” Ponder said. “He’ll always say, ‘90 degrees,’ ‘180 degrees,’ or ‘45 degrees.’
“If you weren’t good at math, it would be tough for you because he wanted you to open up at a 45-degree angle, come back down again, etc.”
Ponder was finding out what Shamiel Gary already knew about Grinch.
Gary, a Tulsa Booker T. Washington product, was a safety who had three interceptions in the 2009 Wyoming season opener — Grinch’s first game as the Cowboys’ defensive backs coach.
“He was very detail-oriented,” Gary said. “He had a fiery passion about him. He seemed like a calm type of guy but he would explode any minute.
“He definitely cared about the game, definitely cared about you as a person. I think what any player would want as a coach is accountability and he held you accountable at the highest level.”
Gary eventually transferred to Oklahoma State and spent several years in the NFL. He wasn’t surprised at all when Grinch started moving upward in his profession as well.
“He wasn’t going to be a DB coach at Wyoming for his entire tenure,” Gary said. “I knew he was going to be a DC at some point in time.
“As DBs, he wanted us to know not just what we’re doing but to know what everybody else is doing on the field. That’s just his personality.”
Gary said Grinch reminded him of the coaches he encountered during his time with the New England Patriots.
When Washington State coach Mike Leach brought Grinch in for an interview after the 2014 season, Leach was reminded of another young coach he’d come across at a critical time in his career.
“It was honestly a lot like when I thought it was time for Lincoln (Riley) to be a full-time coach,” Leach said. “I didn’t know Alex as well but Alex was ready to be a coordinator.”
The Cougars were 99th nationally in total defense before Grinch’s arrival, and 127th in pass defense.
Oklahoma was No. 114 in total defense this season and 129th — last in the Football Bowl Subdivision — in passing defense.
Grinch’s defense improved every year and was 16th in total defense and ninth in passing defense in 2017, his final year in Pullman before moving close to home to serve as Ohio State’s co-defensive coordinator for a year before joining Riley’s staff in Norman.
“I know that he’s going to figure out a way,” McIntire said of Grinch leading a similar turnaround with the Sooners as he did with Washington State. “He’ll always look for answers.”
Washington State coach Mike Leach says new OU defensive coordinator Alex Grinch, center, reminded him of another coach: Lincoln Riley.
Oklahoma defensive coordinator Alex Grinch is seen on the sidelines of the Jan. 1 Rose Bowl with Ohio State coach Urban Meyer.