Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer always keeps a running list of possible assistant coaching hires because he knows that his current assistant coaches aren’t going to stick around forever.
When the NCAA announced last year that a 10th assistant coach was going to be permitted, Meyer had to decide how he was going to use that new slot. With five assistants on offense and only four on defense, he saw it as an opportunity to even up the sides a bit. Pretty soon after that, he began to zero in on Washington State defensive coordinator Alex Grinch.
“I started studying Alex back in the summertime,” Meyer said last week. “You always try to have an on-call. We found out that we were going to be able to add a 10th position. And I believe that he should probably have, like most, I imagine are going to have five each, five offense, five defense, and I wanted to add someone on defense. I wanted to have a high — I need high-energy guys in our program. When you start losing guys like Luke Fickell and Kerry Coombs, who are energy, energy people, great recruiters, great people, they get their units to perform, he fit that mold.
“And then what he did at Washington State, I think was outstanding. I really studied him throughout the year. I checked their scores all the time, I checked they’re statistics, I’ve been watching film on him. Then on top of that, he’s an Ohio guy that wanted to be here. The minute we offered him the job, he had a handful of job offers right on top of it. Obviously he picked the right one.”
Grinch’s performance in turning a traditionally defensively-indifferent Washington State program into one that became very productive defensively impressed Meyer. The Cougar defense hadn’t held opponents under 30 points per game since the 2006 season, and yet upon Grinch’s arrival in 2015, Washington State was able to hold opponents under 30 points per game in each of his three seasons. He also helped to triple the number of turnovers forced per season from the year before he arrived.
The season before he arrived, Washington State had the No. 97 defense in the nation. They finished with the No. 16 defense this past season. They were No. 7 in pass efficiency defense, No. 9 in turnovers forced (28), and No. 5 in fewest touchdown passes allowed (11).
A native of Central Ohio, Grinch’s background didn’t hurt either.
“Huge part of it,” Meyer said. “Yeah, he played at Mount Union, which I have great respect for all those guys that come from that program, they’re usually excellent football people. And him and his wife — his wife is from Alliance, Ohio and he’s from right down the street, so, yeah, that was a perfect fit.”
So Meyer monitored Alex Grinch from afar, checking box scores like Grinch was on his fantasy team. Production and background aren’t the only factors that Meyer had to consider, however. Grinch had to be a fit for the program and for the culture at Ohio State, which he clearly was.
Given that he was looking to add a defensive coach, Meyer made Buckeyes’ defensive coordinator Greg Schiano aware of the direction he was leaning, but it wasn’t until later in the process that Schiano became involved.
“As a head coach, that’s something you have to do, you always have to keep looking over from the 30,000-foot level to protect the program,” Schiano said. “As a coordinator and assistant coach, you need to be right down in the thick of it and handling your day-to-day responsibilities. So Coach kept me in the loop but he didn’t really ask me to do anything until it was getting to be more of a real situation.
“And then it’s all about, again, communication. I think when you visit with people and you get a feel for, will they fit our culture? And I’m excited, I tell you Alex Grinch is a great hire and I’ve enjoyed working with him in the short time that we have. And I’m really looking forward to that transition to football, because he’s a tremendous football coach.”
And while there hasn’t yet been any coaching, Schiano and Grinch have already gotten to know each other and they have hit it off pretty well.
“We have,” Schiano said. “He was around a little bit in the interview process while we were working on football back when. But then when we were out on the road recruiting it’s not like you sit down and start drawing plays up, but you’re in a car or a plane together, in an airport, and that’s what football coaches talk about.
“So I’m excited. I think he’s going to enhance what we do for sure and he’s really, really great with the players.”