When Alex Grinch sat down to process the disastrous end to his debut season as USC’s defensive coordinator, he started with the worst of the worst.
Explosive plays. The failed tackles. Mental breakdowns. Considering the nearly 2,000 combined yards his defense has surrendered in his last four games, there was a lot to analyze in November and December alone.
“You take the band-aid off very quickly,” the Grinch said Tuesday. “That’s the appropriate thing to do.”
In the aftermath of USC’s embarrassing bowl loss, frustrated fans begged Lincoln Riley to release the Grinch. But the coach made it clear in January, at the height of that frustration, that his trust in the coordinator had never wavered. The Grinch was back in the office the morning after the bowl loss, trying to understand how and why USC’s defense had fallen apart.
More than two months later, the Grinch spoke to reporters for the first time about his unit’s frustrating end. When asked about his process for fixing the defense, the often-analytical Grinch spoke for three straight minutes in granular and sometimes meandering detail, explaining each of the individual lenses through which he evaluated defensive performance. USC.
The process began, the Grinch said, first looking inward.
“It takes a lot of discipline and a lot of maturity as a coaching staff to get through it because you’re repeating the most frustrating plays of the season and it’s fresh,” he said. “So you look at it through that lens, ‘What can we do?’ You have to have an honest assessment.”
It remains to be seen what revelations, if any, came out of that self-assessment. But any reflection on defense last season included some hard truths. USC finished 106th in the nation in total defense and 93rd in points allowed, and even those brutal numbers don’t seem to capture where the unit was in the fourth quarter of its bowl game, as it allowed Tulane to count for more than 10 yards to play. .
Riley said Tuesday that he was “very pleased with the defensive progress” this spring. But the Grinch wasn’t running from any of those hard truths.
“You can’t microwave it,” Grinch said of solving USC’s defensive woes. “You have to go through it. And we also have to make sure that at USC we are not afraid of fighting. We are not afraid of difficult things.”
USC added six transfers on defense to speed up the process and most of them appear to be on their way to making a big impact.
Those additions have been most apparent on the defensive front, Riley says.
Former Arizona defensive tackle Kyon Barrs looks like an immediate collaborator on the inside, while Jamil Muhammad, who transferred from Georgia State, impressed with his explosiveness off the rim. Anthony Lucas, a former five-star defensive lineman, has also been “interesting,” Riley said, given his athleticism and size.
“We brought some good players up front. There’s no question about it,” Riley said. “And we have a few more to come. There is more competition. There’s less of a gap between what was good for us last year at the front and then the gap between the next level was just too big. The gap is much smaller. There is much more competition, much more talent. I think this group has shown that it has an opportunity to be harder for offenses to block than our group was last year.”
It would be tempting to assume that a year of experience could make this offseason smoother for the Grinch and his defense. But the embattled aide explicitly warned against that sentiment.
“You can’t just say, ‘It’s year 2, so everything’s going to get better, just the natural progression, we’re older, we’re better,’” Grinch said. “So we describe it to the guys, it can’t be Year 1, 2.0. …Trust me, everyone loves year 2 compared to year 1. But that’s not the magic elixir either.
“We have a responsibility to accumulate days and work harder. But there’s a bigger unit, there’s a stronger unit and I think it’s a very confident unit.”
USC tight end Malcolm Epps entered the NCAA transfer portal on Wednesday morning. He caught three touchdown passes over two seasons with the Trojans after transferring from Texas. … USC announced the addition of former NFL and Southeastern Conference defensive backs coach Greg Brown to his staff as a defensive analyst.