Q&A: Washington State defensive coordinator Alex Grinch

The Pac-12 Blog caught up with new Washington State defensive coordinator Alex Grinch recently.

Grinch comes to Washington State via Missouri, where he coached safeties the last three seasons. He won two SEC East Division titles and two bowl games with the Tigers. Before Missouri, Grinch spent three seasons coaching defensive backs at Wyoming.

What are your initial impressions of Washington State and Pullman?

Grinch: First impressions specific to the football program, obviously, coach [Mike] Leach is building a program here and has been in the process of doing just that. Anytime you’re building a program there’s ups and downs, it’s very rarely a linear path as you try to climb the mountain. I’m very impressed with his plan for Washington State and thrilled with the facilities that Bill Moos has put in place here, and it puts us on a level playing field, certainly, with the rest of the Pac-12 without question. And being in a college town like Pullman, it really has its advantages. You don’t have the bright lights and big cities, but you have a tight-knit community and being around people that are very passionate about Cougar football and Cougar athletics -- it’s certainly a nice atmosphere.

What made it the right move to leave Missouri?

Grinch: That was a tough job to leave. It was back-to-back SEC East championship teams. Coach [Gary] Pinkel and the staff is as good of a staff as there is in the country. Coach Pinkel is as good as anybody from a head-coaching standpoint. The longevity and the consistent performance that he has been able to do over his career is one that again, makes it that much harder to leave. But like anything in this profession, you’re always looking for the right opportunity to advance and then, most importantly, when those opportunities present themselves you want to make sure it’s at a place that you feel you can be successful and Washington State provided that, and also, an opportunity to work for a quality head coach and a guy that I have a lot of respect for. And, obviously, in coach Leach that was present. Beyond that, it was something I thought I’d take a look into, and it turned into mutual interest and it kind of went from there.

Was it harder to leave Pinkel considering he’s your uncle?

Grinch: I’ll say this, if you look at his career and you just stack each year on top of another, find me another coach -- there’s a very short list of guys who have been that successful. That’s what made it so difficult.

Moving on to the Cougs, how much of last season’s defensive game film did you watch?

Grinch: I’ve watched a lot of it for a couple different reasons. More so than anything else, trying to get a feel for the Pac-12, the teams we’re actually going to face -- the offensive styles and offensive personalities in there. That was one of the motivations. Two, to kind of get a baseline for the guys who played a year ago and to try and attach names, numbers type of thing. Also, to kind of get a sense for what some of the issues were, but still keeping an open mind, because no matter what the issues were you’re here to install a new defense and do things in a different way, so you don’t spend too much time trying to correct the defense or the package that was implemented a year ago. Instead, you’re focused on implementing your own. So, the answer is yes, I’ve watched it, but with certain purposes in mind.

How much different will your defensive system look? What are the biggest differences we’ll see?

Grinch: It’s tough to speak to the exact differences. Again, my knowledge of exactly what was done in the past is not there, and I haven’t really concerned myself with what was done in the past other than the bones of it. We will be a 3-4 defense. In terms of commonality and all that, again, it’s hard to speak on. The biggest thing we’re trying to implement in our package now is as us as teachers in the classroom, us being the coaches, making sure guys have a very specific knowledge of their responsibility regardless of call, which allows them to play as fast as possible. That comes back to us. That’s kind of the mantra of this spring, making sure guys know exactly where they need to be, when they need to be there and making sure that guys are doing it at a top speed.

You’ve never coached in the Pac-12, so what did you see on film about those Pac-12 offenses that you’re going to face?

Grinch: The unfortunate part is it’s a lot of good football, and a lot of good football teams. Leaving the SEC, I have a lot of respect for that conference and the types of players and coaches that are back that way. It’d be a whole lot more exciting if I could tell you there was a dropoff between the two conferences, but unfortunately there’s not. You see well-coached football teams. You see a lot of athletes really across the board at the majority of schools in the Pac-12. It’s a good brand of football.