Alex Grinch has performed nothing short of a miracle in transforming the Oklahoma defense in his two years as the defensive coordinator in Norman.
When he took over after the 2018 season, Grinch inherited statistically the worst defense in the history of Oklahoma football.
A year ago, the long-maligned OU pass rush was one of the elite units in the country, and it turned heads across the nation.
Jim Mora Jr. — the former head coach of the Seattle Seahawks and Atlanta Falcons, former UCLA head coach and current draft analyst for ESPN and Sports Illustrated — has been impressed by the foundational changes Grinch has made in such a short time.
Thursday's with Mora:
“The defensive culture change that he’s been able to infuse with his personality and with him being as demanding as he is, you see a defense that’s really special,” Mora told SI Sooners.
Coaching against Grinch’s Washington State defenses, Mora got to know the man a little bit, he said.
“When you talk about Alex, you talk about a younger coach who coaches with great passion. He’s got a tough demeanor to him, very focused, very creative,” Mora said. “When I used to prepare to play against his Washington State team, you were gonna see all different kinds of looks up front and he wasn’t playing with the types of athletes then that he has now.
“That creativity caused problems for offensive coordinators. They were tremendously disruptive.”
Grinch’s creativity paid dividends for Oklahoma last year, as his defense was able to generate 39 sacks, the third-highest mark in the country. They were also able to force 19 turnovers as a team, good enough to be tied for 19th in the nation.
But perhaps Grinch’s biggest accomplishment is how he’s changed the entire perception of the OU defense in just two seasons.
“When I looked at Oklahoma playing on defense in the past, you saw a team that had great talent, but in my opinion, didn’t play with toughness and didn’t tackle well and didn’t play with great effort,” Mora said. “And then last year I’m like, ‘Darn, these guys are tough. They’re tackling, their effort is really good. They’re a changed defense.’ And I think you’re gonna see the rise of this defense continue as long as Alex stays, because he’s changed the culture.”
The only downside of Grinch’s success for Sooner fans could be that his results actually place him at the front of the line for head coaching openings in the next few offseasons.
“I think he’s gonna have some opportunities,” Mora said. “He’s definitely a guy that people are looking at. He’s a young up-and-comer.”
But his success with Oklahoma affords Grinch the opportunity to be picky and wait for the right fit as a head coach. His recent raise to $1.8 million a year gives him financial security.
And Grinch doesn’t strike Mora as a guy who will leap at any chance regardless of fit, Mora said.
Mora said he could easily see Grinch waiting for the right program that matches his philosophy and ambitions, and has an administration which brings stability and support.
Even if success on the field leads to Grinch leaving Norman, however, Mora said the work already done with the defense could have a far reaching impact.
“It’s gonna happen eventually, but the effect that he’s had on Oklahoma and their defense could be lasting,” Mora said. “If Alex moves on, Lincoln will hire another great defensive coordinator to continue to build on the work that Alex has already done.”
For now, OU fans can rest easy knowing they enter the 2021 season with the potential to be elite on both sides of the football, pairing Lincoln Riley’s explosive offense with a defense who can also make the difference down the stretch of a big game.