A KEEN ONE

New OU co­or­di­na­tor de­fined by com­pet­i­tive­ness, adapt­abil­ity

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - SPORTS - NOR­MAN — Ryan Aber

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

bas­ket­ball coach.

“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.”

[AP PHOTO]

Wash­ing­ton State coach Mike Leach says new OU de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Alex Grinch, cen­ter, re­minded him of an­other coach: Lin­coln Ri­ley.

[email protected] ok­la­homan.com

[PHOTO BY ADAM CAIRNS, COLUM­BUS DIS­PATCH]

Ok­la­homa de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Alex Grinch is seen on the side­lines of the Jan. 1 Rose Bowl with Ohio State coach Ur­ban Meyer.

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