OU football: Alex Grinch's hiring raises question about other defensive changes
The biggest question of Oklahoma's offseason has been answered.
Alex Grinch is the new defensive coordinator.
But even with the news of his hiring Friday, questions remain. How will he fix the defense? How will he adjust the scheme? How will he change the culture?
He'll going to need help in those efforts, so what changes are coming on the defensive staff?
You have to think they'll be sweeping. Maybe one or two get to stay, but surely two or three are on the way out. But the way Lincoln Riley addressed that topic the morning after the Sooners' season ended, it raised a question about how strongly Riley might lobby to keep coaches already on the staff.
“We've got good people in that room,” he said. “We've got good coaches and good recruiters, people that are loyal to this place, people that have been great to me personally, people that I trust.”
Such things are important, of course, but you know what's more important right now?
Fixing this defense.
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If Grinch believes he can't do that unless he has clean slate, he needs to be able to hire all new assistants. He can't go out and get new players — that's not how college football works — but if the former co-defensive coordinator from Ohio State thinks changing assistants will help in changing the defense, the system and the culture, he has to have that green light.
Riley didn't rule out changes, saying instead he'd wait to have a new coordinator before deciding on any other moves. But he sure seemed to be lobbying to keep these coaches.
That loyalty smacked of Bob Stoops.
The man who Riley has called his biggest living mentor was 13 seasons into his tenure at OU before firing an assistant. Many of those years were good, so no one needed the boot. And yet, the defense was spiraling toward what we see now, but the only defensive coaches that Stoops ever dismissed were Willie Martinez and Jackie Shipp.
The most seismic change Stoops ever made came with the firing of Josh Heupel and Jay Norvell. Stoops had long and strong ties to both — Heupel was the quarterback of the Stoops' only national championship team and Norvell had been his college teammate at Iowa — but for the betterment of the program, Stoops decided the offense had to change.
Riley was hired.
Worked out well.
Improving the team trumped Stoops' loyalty to longtime friends and trusted allies — and Riley must have the same approach with his defensive coaches if that's what Grinch wants.
Such a move won't be easy. That behind-the-scenes video of Riley celebrating on Early Signing Day showed him back-slapping linebacker coach Tim Kish and bro-hugging secondary coach Kerry Cooks. Clearly, Riley likes these guys. You want to work with people you like.
Those assistants are great recruiters, too. Look at all the four- and five-star defensive players who they've brought to Norman in the past few years.
But what good is high-level recruiting if guys don't ultimately play at a high level?
Hatari Byrd. L.J. Moore. Ricky DeBerry. P.J. Mbanasor. Will Sunderland. Jordan Parker. Parrish Cobb. All were four-star recruits, and while some played, none ever made a huge impact.
And what of guys like Caleb Kelly and Bookie Radley-Hiles? They were the highest of the high-level defensive recruits. They were sought after by a who's who of college football. Alabama. Clemson. Notre Dame. Ohio State. But they struggled this past season to even get on the field, Kelly early and Radley-Hiles late. Both have time yet to prove what they can do, but to this point, neither has gotten a ton better.
Maybe that's on them, but when you see a pattern of players not developing, maybe even regressing, that is systemic.
These players deserve better.
That's where Lincoln Riley's loyalty has to lie — with the players. Be obligated to them. Give them the absolute best chance to succeed.
No matter how many office nameplates may have to be changed.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.