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New Wisconsin assistant Alex Grinch says disappointing stint at USC gives him chip on his shoulder

Alex Grinch
Posted at 3:51 PM, Feb 07, 2024

MADISON (AP) — Alex Grinch says his disappointing tenure as Southern California's defensive coordinator the last two seasons has given him even more incentive as he begins his new job as Wisconsin's safeties coach and co-defensive coordinator.

Grinch was fired at USC with two games left in the 2023 regular season, one day after his defense allowed 572 yards in a 52-42 loss to eventual College Football Playoff runner-up Washington.

"What happens is when you don't have the success that you expect, that you can circle that and highlight that, and it leaves a bad taste in your mouth, but it also creates a chip on your shoulder," Grinch said Wednesday. "I'm not sure there'd be anyone in the country with a bigger chip than what I have."

Grinch fills a vacancy at Wisconsin that was created when 2023 safeties coach Colin Hitschler left to join new Alabama coach Kalen DeBoer's staff.

His star was on the rise not too long ago as he showed a knack for upgrading struggling defenses.

Washington State ranked 99th in total defense in 2014, the year before Grinch was hired as defensive coordinator. The Cougars improved to 84th in 2015, 62nd in 2016 and 16th in 2017, when he was named a semifinalist for the Broyles Award given annually to college football's top assistant coach.

After spending a year as Ohio State's co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach, Grinch joined Lincoln Riley's staff at Oklahoma. The Sooners ranked 114th in total defense the year before Grinch's arrival but improved to 38th in 2019 and 29th in 2020 before sliding to 76th in 2021. Grinch was a Broyles Award semifinalist again in 2019.

"Alex has phenomenal experience from across the college football landscape, and I'm excited for the schematic, recruiting and coaching talents he'll bring to our defensive staff," Wisconsin head coach Luke Fickell said last week in a statement announcing the hire.

Grinch then followed Riley to Southern California, where he was unable to approach the results he produced at his previous stops.

In his first year at USC, the Trojans led the nation in turnover margin but were 106th in yards allowed per game (423.9) and 124th in yards allowed per play (6.53).

USC was ranked 119th in yards allowed per game (436.9) and 121st in points allowed per game (34.5) when Grinch got fired last November. USC gave up a total of 101 points in Grinch's last two games as coordinator.

"You get punched in the mouth, you try to stand tall, set your jaw and get ready for what's next," Grinch said.

What's next is a chance for Grinch to return to his roots in coaching safeties.

Grinch played safety on three Division III championship teams at Mount Union, coached Wyoming's secondary from 2009-11 and coached Missouri's safeties from 2012-14. His former safeties at Wyoming included eventual NFL players Chris Prosinski and Tashaun Gipson.

And after taking over struggling defenses at Washington State, Oklahoma and USC, Grinch joins a Wisconsin program that generally ranked 11th or better in yards allowed per game every year from 2019-22, though the Badgers slipped to 39th in that category last year while going 7-6. Grinch will coach a veteran safety group led by Hunter Wohler, who had a team-high 120 tackles last season.

"I think there's some experienced guys there, which is fun for me, to turn on some film and be able to see some guys running around, playing the game the right way," Grinch said. "And by and large, I think that's what the film would suggest."

Grinch's new job also gives him a chance to face his former team. In its first season as a Big Ten member, USC will host Wisconsin on Sept. 28. Asked if he had circled that date on his calendar, Grinch repeatedly downplayed the personal aspect to that matchup and said he's just looking forward to this new opportunity.

"I'm excited to coach at Wisconsin," Grinch said. "This is a pretty schedule coming up, and there's a lot of games to circle as you go through it."