The real magic behind the philosophy of Washington State defensive coordinator Alex Grinch

PULLMAN – Back in early 2015 in the midst of long, gut-wrenching offseason workouts at Washington State, a defense-only meeting was called. We gathered in the team room on the fifth floor of the FOB to be introduced to our new defensive coordinator, Alex Grinch. The D was starved for change, a new sense of energy, a mentality that would turn the program around. I can tell you, because I was there.

And that’s exactly what coach Grinch has delivered from the day he arrived at Washington State.

He didn’t waste a single minute with us. He began by putting up a few slides that revealed key points of his philosophy in fielding a great defense. As football players, we’ve all seen coaches stand up and talk about the keys to success and what you have to do to be the best team possible. Okay, we thought, we’ve seen this before. But then he turned to the next slide: Two words, in all caps:

“TAKEAWAYS = VICTORY”

He then proceeded to explain how turnovers can impact a single game, and an entire season. He clearly had done his research and presented factual evidence to prove his points. First, he pulled up a couple stat sheets that showed the striking correlation between takeaways and wins. The study was comprised of results from every college football team in the country. Some charts showed average results over a 10-year period. Others showed averages from a single season. Across the board, the numbers from year-to-year were remarkably consistent.

It seems so simple, but I can tell you it was something no one in that room had ever thought of in such absolute terms. Takeaways equal victory.

Grinch took each team's overall record at the end of a season and compared that to their turnover margin. And all of us watching the presentation saw how right he was – takeaways do equal victory.

One of his studies, with no other stats included, showed teams who finished a season with a positive turnover margin (meaning they only had to have one more takeaway than turnovers lost) finished with an average record of 8-5. It was simple – on average, if you finish positive in turnovers you are likely to win eight games. Okay… cool statistic, but it's just an average, right?

He then put up another statistic that showed the amount of total takeaways by a team and how it compared to their overall record. Teams that managed 24 takeaways on the season averaged an overall record of 9-4. Again, no other stats included. You get 24 takeaways – you win 9 games on average, Grinch said. So in a 12-game season, that comes out to two takeaways per game – or the "Power of Two," as Grinch calls it.

And so Grinch's philosophy was simple in 2015 – two was the magic number on D. Every day, every practice, every game, Grinch wanted his two takeaways. (Obviously more than two takeaways would be outstanding, but Grinch was demanding of at least two).

We'd seen interceptions and fumbles all the time that didn't necessarily decide a game, or result in eventual points. But Grinch was telling us, showing us, that they do.

Without questioning or hesitating, the team started to listen and do what coach Grinch asked. We didn’t know if it was going to work or not, but we knew that whatever we were doing before wasn’t giving us the results we wanted.

We saw the numbers, listened to Grinch, and made that our main focus all year long. And I have to say – I don’t think that it was until the season was over that those numbers truly hit home.

Not only did we finish on the positive side in turnover margin, we ended with exactly 24 takeaways on the season, and we won 9 games.

Mind. Blown.

Is this guy a defensive coordinator or is he some kind of football prophet?

But the real magic behind Grinch’s philosophy isn’t in the research or the studies – it's in how he conducts and teaches his guys to play with the right mentality, the correct technique, a clear understanding of the game -- how to play with the force required to make that ball come out.

I’ll repeat to you here, what I’ve heard coach Grinch preach time and time again: The game itself is all about the ball. It’s the most prized possession on the field at any time and on every single play. Every single play on defense is another opportunity to take that ball away from the other team.

That’s the mentality that WSU’s defensive coordinator imparts to his players, And that’s the way you have to play in order to see the predictive results come true.

You want to talk about players buying in and respecting their coach’s philosophy? Just take a look at WSU’s defense headed into the 2016 opener, after one season under Grinch. Every one of those guys wants that ball so badly they can taste it, and every guy will do whatever is asked of him in order to accomplish that.

That's the real magic coach Grinch has brought to Washington State.

NOTE: WSU's practice today: A short walk through with NO media availability after the session. WSU's next practice is Saturday, it's also expected to be a short, light workout but there will be media availability afterwards so we'll be back with our continuing CF.C fall ball coverage from Pullman on Saturday evening..

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