This article has been updated ...
1. Cougfan.com: What will WSU’s base defense be under your direction, talk a little about some of the other looks CougFans will see next year?
Alex Grinch: We'll be a 3-4 structure, which may or may not look completely similar to what's been done in the past. It will include three down linemen and four linebackers...you'll hear me say a lot 'a downhill approach to the game.' Don't want guys on their heels. Very defined in terms of responsibilities of both run game and pass game. We want to have the ability to be multiple in terms of pressures, the 3-4 allows us to do that. No promises or a crystal ball for what that magic number of pressures would be -- sometimes the fear of pressure is actually is as good as bringing it… We’ll try to structure it so you can get legs out of a three or four man rush and sometimes the threat of bringing 5-6 can increase your chances of affecting the quarterback with only rushing three or four. The biggest thing is to be sure we’re teaching to get these guys to execute at a very, very high level. (Note: Grinch went on to sum up the Cougs will be multiple out of an odd-man front and that depending on down and distance, game situation, etc. that could result in WSU offering several different looks out of a 3-4 base structure.)
2. Cougfan.com: You have a discussion-making last name, does it translate to anything cool like "Hercules in Cleats?"
Grinch: It doesn’t. I tell everyone I was born into it, my wife had to marry into it so she’s tougher than I am, I guess (laugh). It is what it is and it’s not going away… it’s several (ethnicities) including German. The story goes a great grandfather switched it at one point or another for reasons yet to be completely explained to me. Didn’t have to deal with Dr. Seuss back then.
3. Cougfan.com: Apart from recruiting, what are your top 3 priorities between now and start of spring ball?
Grinch: The first thing is to get an opportunity to visit with the players and it has to be a short feeling out phase... and it will start this afternoon with the first meeting with the defense. The second thing is to do a good job of teaching these guys in the classroom and every minute we have a minute to do so before spring ball, which is limited... to ensure we hit the ground running in Practice One of spring football. The final thing is to develop relationships with the players.. to get this thing flipped from a defensive standpoint there’s got to be a sense of urgency in that defensive room that is unrivaled.
4. Cougfan.com: What is the main thing you’ve been able to learn about the Cougar D in the short time since this process began, have you been able to watch much film?
Grinch: My biggest thing in visiting with Coach Mike Leach and the rest of the coaching staff including down in the weight room, the culture seems like it’s not exactly where it needs to be but it’s certainly going in the right direction. I think that’s as important as anything… It comes down to us doing a great job in the football classroom as teachers…. Just a little (film study), just a little. And I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t going to dive into it. It is important to know of where the baseline where things have been both personnel-wise and scheme wise. By the same token, I expect a clean slate from these guys… of what is a new defensive scheme, even if it’s just in terms of terminology, I expect those guys to keep an open mind that way and it’s important for me to afford them that same respect. It will be a trial by fire once we get rolling as we get closer to spring and just meetings as well.
5. Cougfan.com: After ranking second in the Pac-12 in takeaways in 2013 with 30 (16 INT, 14 FR) WSU plummeted to just 8 takeaways in 2014 and just 3 INTs -- what’s the silver bullet to turn that around?
Grinch: I don’t know that there is one but as defensive coaches we’re always searching for those. Part of it, I call it brainwashing, is just believing that football is absolutely everything to winning and losing a game each week… our mindset has to be... takeaways equals victory… part of it how you practice, to make sure you're attacking through the football every play in practice whether the ball is in the air or it's coming at you on the ground... And some of that too is the more bodies you have at the point of attack defensively, the more prone you are to having for the ball to bounce your way. Going back to the teaching aspect, when guys know exactly where to go, it lends itself to being more aggressive, you can get to the football more violenty and get the ball out... The No. 1 emphasis for us defensively will be takeaways.
6. Cougfan.com: Other than Gary Pinkel and Chip Kelly, who are your biggest coaching influences?
Grinch: Sure, Jerry Azzinaro, defensive line coach of the Eagles, a guy who worked at Oregon with Chip but also was with us for just over a year at New Hampshire. Just a phenomenal job in how to package a defense – it’s not just about calling plays but in how you package it for guys in easing their learning, and it helps them play faster. So I’d highlight him, and then Sean McDonnell. Everyone thinks Chip was the head coach at New Hampshire but Sean McDonnell was and is the head coach there. Just how he sells players on being accountable, being aggressive as a defense and just the overall downhill approach to defensive football -- Coach Dave Steckel, our most recent defensive coordinator at Missouri was a huge influence in that way. What we’ve done the last couple years in the SEC has everything to do with 1) being sound and 2) … you may equal us but we will never be out-efforted… he did a tremendous job in that way… There probably is not a book I haven’t read, and you kind of piece all of those things together and develop your philosophy.
7. Cougfan.com: Before this, any first-hand knowledge of any kind of WSU and was Dave Yost, who came from Missouri to Pullman two years ago, the entry point for how you got onto the Washington State radar?
Grinch: I would credit Coach Yost for that. I have a real good relationship with him going back a number of years. More than anything else I trust him, I trust his ability to evaluate, give me insight into who and what the Washington State program is... so that was a huge factor. I’ve been a coach in the Mountain West (Wyoming) so I’ve certainly followed Pac-12 football at times over the years and most recently I’ve kinda been with the East Coast bias in the SEC (laugh). I certainly have a lot of respect for this conference… when you say the words ‘Washington State’ my ears certainly perked up.
8. Cougfan.com: What will your recruiting territories be?
Grinch: That’s still something we’ll need to define. I’ve recruited a number of places, Texas and Georgia most recently. I recruited Texas when I was at Wyoming (and Georgia at Mizzou). Once we complete the staff, we’ll work through those things.
9. Cougfan.com: Speaking of completing the staff, where positionally will you and Leach look to add to on the defensive side of the ball – d-line, secondary or linebackers?
Grinch: I think it depends on-- the biggest thing is going to be the quality of the hire. That will trump all. There are several guys we are talking to already and hopefully can get someone on board sooner rather than later. But it will really depend on who the best candidate is and then we can sort ourselves out defensively (position-wise) from there.
10. Cougfan.com: Gary Pinkel is your uncle, what’s it like to coach with a family member – is it easier or is there more pressure?
Grinch: Anyone who has every worked for Coach Pinkel understands that it’s about attention to detail in every phase, and it wouldn’t have been any different for me or for anyone who has ever worked for him. It was a tremendous experience in terms of building a program, what he’s done there. And if we can emulate that here at Washington State, there will be a lot of happy Cougar fans.
11. Cougfan.com: When did you first talk to WSU, when did it get serious, take us through the process a little bit.
Grinch: It was fairly recent. I was very comfortable at the University of Missouri, been very fortunate to win a couple divisional championships, be in a couple SEC championship games, play in two January bowl games the last two years. It’s in a great college town, probably very similar to Pullman. So I wasn’t looking to leave by any stretch of imagination. But recently I had some conversations with David Yost and it went from there. And to have an opportunity to work for someone the quality of a Mike Leach, you get your antennas up… Coming out here and seeing the facilities, hearing from a number of coaches about the quality of the players that are here, it quickly became something I wanted to look into. Now, being here, I feel a real sense of urgency to get going and improve the defensive side of the ball… My excitement for being here, I wish it would win us football games, and if it did we’d win a lot. In the end it’s going to come down to improving the culture on defense, being great teachers.. and playing aggressively. That’s the aim from here on out.
Grinch said he will either be in Pullman or on the road recruiting from now through Signing Day (Feb. 4). Grinch and his wife, Rebecca, have a son Tyler (5) and daughter Corbi (3) and he’s “itching to get them out here as soon as possible” but there's a house to sell back in Missouri plus all the logistical items associated with a major move. In the short term, it will be all about recruiting and the WSU defense for Grinch. “There are no breaks from now until Signing Day,” he said.
CF.C ONE-ON-ONE WSU D-COORDINATOR ALEX GRINCH
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