Everyone knows about the Grinch who stole Christmas. Washington State’s new defensive coordinator wants to be known as the Grinch who steals footballs.
“Violence” and “aggressiveness” were two terms Alex Grinch used repeatedly in describing his goals for improving WSU’s lackluster defense, particularly when it comes to producing turnovers.
“It’s not a ‘try-to’ type of thing,” Grinch, 34, said in a Friday teleconference from Pullman. “It’s imperative that we get the ball out. It’s imperative that we attack the football when it’s in the air.
“Every time that ball’s thrown, it’s an opportunity to change possession.”
Grinch, who has never been a coordinator before, spent the past three seasons as safeties coach at Missouri. The 2014 Missouri defense produced 25 turnovers and 12 interceptions during an 11-3 season. The Tigers were ranked 14th in the final Associated Press Top 25 poll.
The Cougars came up with eight turnovers and three interceptions during a 3-9 season in 2014. Those are just two of the WSU defensive statistics that ranked among the worst in the nation.
Washington State coach Mike Leach said Grinch is “a passionate, tireless worker who brings tremendous excitement and aggression to our team.” Leach publicly questioned the aggressiveness and execution of WSU’s defense this past season. Defensive coordinator Mike Breske and outside linebackers coach Paul Volero were fired after a season-ending, 31-13 loss to Washington.
Grinch said the Cougars will continue to operate out of a 3-4 base defense.
“Coach (Leach) wants to find a way to be more aggressive on the defensive side of the ball,” Grinch said. “I think the package (Grinch brings) will lend itself to that, once you produce more takeaways. I think our teaching and practice structure will lend itself to that.
“It’s important to get off the field on third downs. There’s going to be a huge emphasis on that, and it’s important you play good defense in the red zone and make teams count in the threes (kick field goals) instead of sevens (score touchdowns). It can have a huge impact on winning and losing.”
Bigger names with experience as defensive coordinators were rumored to be possible targets of Leach. Former USC and California defensive coordinator Clancy Pengergast was among those mentioned.
Grinch said Leach did not contact him until WSU inside receivers coach David Yost (who coached with Grinch at Missouri) spoke with Grinch “about a week ago” and let Leach know of Grinch’s interest in becoming a coordinator. Obviously, other candidates were pursued first, since Breske was fired at the end of November.
A native of Grove City, Ohio, Grinch is the nephew of Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel, a longtime Washington Huskies assistant under Don James.
Grinch has a long history of winning as a player and coach. He won three NCAA Division III titles as a safety at Mount Union (Ohio), where his teams posted a 54-1 record. As a coach, Grinch’s teams have been highly successful during his 10-year career as a full-time assistant (all on defense) at New Hampshire, Wyoming and Missouri.
“He’s the real deal,” said Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly, who was an assistant coach at New Hampshire with Grinch in 2005-06. “He’s intelligent, articulate and has an unbelievable work ethic. He is one of the best teachers I’ve been around.”
When he’s not teaching, Grinch has spent a lifetime learning how to deal with every wisecrack imaginable regarding his last name.
“As a family,” he deadpanned, “we’ve developed a lot of mental toughness.”
That’s something that has often been in short supply in the WSU football program in recent years, according to coaches and players. Grinch, an enthusiastic sort known as a strong recruiter, intends to bring physical and mental toughness to the Palouse.
“The more guys you get to the football, the more confidence they have in their pursuit to the football,” Grinch said. “It lends itself to an aggressiveness that when you’re at the point of attack, you’ve got a chance to be more violent when you get there.”