Alex Grinch era begins with Oklahoma's first spring practice
By Tyler Palmateer | Transcript Sports Editor
Alex Grinch wore two layers on his back. A thick sweatshirt on top with a thin t-shirt underneath.
They had both been soaked with a wide circle of sweat by the time he took questions after his first practice as Oklahoma’s defensive coordinator.
The Grinch era technically began with what he described as “800 reps of pretend,” or in other words, the walk-through hours the NCAA allows college football coaches with players during the offseason. But his time with the Sooners really began taking shape Thursday when spring practice began.
He barked at players, put his hands on their jerseys, shot jokes and displayed noticeable intensity — nothing out of the ordinary for a coach, but certainly an attitude that resonated.
“Coach Grinch,” sophomore outside linebacker Ronnie Perkins said, “I think he has a loose screw or something.”
The 38-year-old Grinch, who was hired away from Ohio State in January, will coach the Sooners’ safeties. That’s how sophomore Brendan Radley-Hiles was able to see much of his new coach’s persona up close.
“He makes your energy just spark immediately,” Radley-Hiles said. “Everything he stands for is energy and making offenses struggle. And that’s what we’re going to do.”
Grinch’s turnover-focused defense worked during his time as Washington State defensive coordinator. It resulted in 28 takeaways in 2017; last season OU had 11. Ohio State forced 23 last season with Grinch on staff as co-defensive coordinator.
So the mantra was something of a broken record Thursday as he and coaches continued molding a new version of his “Speed D” system, which will feature some leaner players wreaking more havoc and forcing the issue defensively.
“Take the ball back,” Grinch said. “Today was obviously the first day that we’ve had an opportunity to do something. And the fortunate thing is we walked off the field and we got a few. But you want more.
“Every single coach is barking on every single snap to get the ball out every time they catch it. We changed the tempo with how we finish plays. We’re not tagging guys, we’re stripping at the football even without pads. Every snap is a takeaway drill.”
These are important days, he admitted.
“You’re trying to establish standards,” Grinch said. “And what you can’t do early on in the process is you can’t let anything go. You can’t say, well it’ll get fixed on its own. They don’t know you, you don’t know them. In any event, sometimes at the expense of being a nag, if you will, it’s a constant not letting guys get away with anything [on the field].”
Grinch spoke about urgency when he was introduced in his new position and has stressed that with players. It really resonated with Radley-Hiles, who has had the words ‘Don’t waste a day’ tattooed on his left wrist since he was a high school sophomore.
“I relate to it,” he said. “That hit home for me.”
OU ranked 114th nationally in total defense a year ago. Those days aren’t discussed much now, Radley-Hiles said. It’s the days in progress and ones ahead that matter.
In the meantime, Grinch’s energy figures to be a mainstay. His on-field coaching style is a product of mentors Gary Pinkel, then at Missouri, and New Hampshire head coach Sean McDonnell.
“It was ‘coach every snap.’ They put a whistle in your hands to coach so you’re not a bystander. You’re not watching, you’re not a cheerleader,” Grinch said. “Coaching is a critiquing business, so that’s all I know and that’s all this coaching staff does.”