Faceoff: the pros & cons of WSU's Grinch hire

JIM WALDEN and Braulio Perez square off in a battle over the pros and cons of Washington State's hiring of Alex Grinch as defensive coordinator. Walden likes the choice and Perez is scratching his head. They've each written a column -- both included here -- detailing their assessments of the move.


By Braulio Perez
Cougfan.com Correspondent

My first reaction was pretty straight forward: Alex Grinch?

Mike Leach and Bill Moos said they were looking for someone with experience, who would bring a spark to Cougar football. And they wind up hiring a safeties coach from Missouri who was passed over three weeks ago to be the Tigers’ new defensive coordinator?

Don’t get me wrong. Grinch may be the next great defensive coordinator on the West Coast. He has a reputation for both brains and energy, which would seem a perfect combo for a DC. But he also has only three years of coaching experience in a power conference – granted, that’s three years more than Mike Breske brought to Pullman – and he’s never been a DC anywhere at any level before.

He obviously isn’t the guy Cougar fans were hoping to see, nor the guy Moos suggested we should expect.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but in the court of marketing and PR it’s a fail. Of course, none of us interviewed Grinch or chatted with Clancy Pendergast or Manny Diaz or anyone else. If we had, perhaps the Grinch hiring would have been a no brainer and yesterday’s announcement greeted with cheers rather than questions.

For a team that went 3-9 in 2014, whose defense was near the bottom of every Pac-12 defensive statistical category, going with an unproven young gun strikes me as a big leap of faith, particularly when Moos said a week ago they were talking to people “with very impressive resumes” and that “this is a huge hire (for the program).”

Grinch may turn out to be huge, but right now his selection looks – at least from a fan’s standpoint – ho hum.

Nonetheless, the support for Grinch came out strong and fast yesterday after word leaked of his move to WSU. Chip Kelly, who coached with Grinch at New Hampshire, called him “a stud,” according to FOX Sports’ Bruce Feldman. "He's a real rising star. One of the best teachers I've been around."

Leach, in a WSU press release, said Grinch “is a passionate, tireless worker who brings tremendous excitement and aggression to our team. He has a track record of developing young talent, which will be of great benefit to our defense.”

Can Grinch, who is 34, get the job done when Breske couldn’t? Who the hell am I to say he can't? He’s a young guy, who undoubtedly has a lot of fire in him and will clearly want to make a statement in Pullman next season. Maybe that’s exactly what WSU’s defense needs, a vibrant younger guy that kids might be able to relate to better than a scold like Pendergast. I also hear Grinch is a good recruiter, which gives him major bonus points over a guy like Pendergast.

“I’m excited to join the Washington State football program and thank Coach Leach for the opportunity,” Grinch said in WSU’s press release. “It’s time to get to work to produce a defense that Cougar fans can be proud of!”

His first job, though, is making people believe he's the right man for the job. Because right now, his hiring states pretty loudly that Leach swung for the fences with the defensive coordinator job and missed badly.


By Jim Walden
Special to Cougfan.com

I noticed early on yesterday that some message board posters were wringing their hands over the fact Mike Leach hired a position coach with no defensive coordinator experience as his new DC. I also noticed angst over the length of time it took to make the hire.

In regard to the hiring of a position coach, I’m just glad the internet wasn’t around back in the day when Sam Jankovich hired the secondary coach at Nebraska, my old buddy Warren Powers, to be the Cougars’ head coach. Or the following year, when Sam hired a quarterbacks/running backs coach – me – to succeed Warren as head coach of the Cougs.

My point is, don’t get hung up on titles. There’s a helluva lot more to coaching than the title you have. The buzz on Mr. Grinch is clearly very positive throughout the coaching world, and to see what Missouri has done on defense while he’s been on staff there can only fuel hopes for better days ahead for the Cougars.

In regard to the time it took to make the hire, would you rather have hurried and gotten somebody you wish you hadn’t? Or would you have rather Mike Leach took his time to get a guy he really wants on his staff? In my view, there is no time frame, absolutely none, if you get the right guy. And I’ve got a ton of examples of that. Here are three that come immediately to mind:

1. Four years ago, Chris Ash was in his 10th season variously coaching defensive backs at Iowa State, San Diego State and Wisconsin. In 2011, this long-time position coach was promoted to DC at Wisconsin and today he’s wearing a national championship ring as Ohio State's co-defensive coordinator after the Buckeyes' domination of seemingly unstoppable Oregon. Nobody outside of Madison or Ames knew who Chris was a few years ago. Now look at him. It's not the name you go after when making a hire, it's the best coach who fits with your staff and needs. Chris, by the way, started his career at Drake, which is the same level as little old Whitworth in Spokane. My point is, there is talent in all kinds of places if you look for it.

2. In 1978, I talked Jimmy Burrow into joining my staff at WSU rather than suiting up for a sixth season as an all-star defensive back in the Canadian Football League. He had never coached before, but I knew the kind of mind and temperament he had from his playing days at Nebraska when I was a coach there. I can only imagine the reaction today on the Web if a major-conference coach brought in a guy to coach his DBs who had never coached at any level before. Jimmy was so good that I also brought him to Iowa State with me in 1987. He just concluded his 12th very successful season as the defensive coordinator at Ohio.

3. Gary Gagnon is another one of my former WSU assistants who came out of “nowhere” and proved to be a fabulous hire. He was the coach at Evergreen High in Seattle, with no college coaching experience of any kind, when I hired him. He was nothing less than outstanding, helping turn out some of the great names in WSU history like Rueben Mayes, Kerry Porter, Tim Harris and others. He left me and went to Stanford and then got out of coaching, but the point is, I got him from high school, and look what he did at Washington State. You can’t let preconceived notions about titles or schools or conferences cloud your assessment of who can succeed at the major-conference level.

I could go on with other examples, with guys like Pat Ruel (now with the Seahawks), and Steve Morton, one of the great OL coaches the Pac-12 has ever seen.

But the bottom line is, you hire a head coach because you believe he can get the job done. That means trusting his assessment of who best to surround himself with. Half the fun of being a college football fan is arm-chair quarterbacking, so I get all that.

What’s important, though, is not what past job titles Alex Grinch brings to the table, but the teaching skills, leadership skills, and tactical and strategic planning skills he possesses. As I said, the buzz on him in that regard is very, very positive. When it comes to who Coach Leach hires and fires, I have just one thing to say: “More power to ya.”

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