Grinch brings different mentality to WSU defense

Defensive coordinator learned strategy for Cougars’ Speed D while coaching safeties at Missouri University


EZEKIEL NELSON | The Daily Evergreen

WSU Football Defensive Coordinator Alex Grinch describes his career path and his motivation behind becoming a football coach.

DYLAN GREENE, Evergreen deputy sports editor

Speed D originated when Alex Grinch took over as defensive coordinator three years ago. Now the term is part of WSU defense’s identity.

Grinch said he never meant for the term to gain as much attention as it has.

“It was intended to be an in-house thing,” he said. “It was not designed to be a hashtag.”

But the term has become a rallying cry for the defense to work as a unit, Grinch said.

“We wanted the guys taking pride in who we are and what we are,” he said.

The Ohio native started his coaching career in 2003 when he became a defensive graduate assistant coach for the University of Missouri football team. Before taking that opportunity, Grinch played college football at the University of Mount Union.

He played safety for the Purple Raiders and was part of three NCAA Division III National Championship teams in 1998, 2000 and 2001. The team had a 54-1 record during Grinch’s four years at the university.

Even while attending Mount Union and playing football, Grinch knew what he wanted to do — coach.

“It’s the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do,” Grinch said.

In 2005, Grinch left Missouri and headed to the University of New Hampshire. He was the safety coach for two seasons before being promoted to secondary coach and recruiting coordinator in 2007.

Wyoming was the next stop for Grinch. He spent three seasons there as the secondary coach and recruiting coordinator before making his way back to Missouri in 2012.

During his second stint at Missouri, Grinch coached the safeties and learned the strategy for his current defense at WSU under the leadership of Head Coach Gary Pinkel, his uncle.

Grinch developed a defense predicated on speed and forcing turnovers, which he brought with him to Pullman.

The Cougars improved from allowing 38.6 points per game in 2014 to 27.6 points per game in 2015, the year Grinch arrived. The defense also forced three times as many turnovers in 2015 compared to 2014.

Grinch said taking the ball away from opposing offenses is something he preaches to his players.

“That’s a major component of who we are and I am positive that turnovers control football games,” Grinch said.

The defense has improved each year with Grinch at the helm. This year, the Speed D has recorded two shutouts and has the second best total defense in the Pac-12.

Head Coach Mike Leach said the players on defense have bought into Grinch’s scheme, and it shows on the field this season.

“Our guys play really hard and they know their role better, so they’re real invested in what [Grinch] is teaching and what we’re trying to do,” Leach said.

Grinch said he wants to see his players going all out on every play when he watches film of his defense.

“You like to turn on the video and see a brand of football in terms of guys playing fast, playing hard and playing aggressive,” he said.

When he tries to recruit players who fit his strategy, Grinch said he looks for players who have speed and play the right way.

“They have to have a nose for the football,” Grinch said, “and we don’t just want them to be able to run. They have to run and hit.”

This season, the defense has had success despite injuries to several players at the linebacker position. WSU redshirt senior linebacker Peyton Pelluer broke his foot in the third game of the season and redshirt senior linebackers Isaac Dotson and Nate DeRider have missed the past three games with unspecified injuries.

In their absence, redshirt freshmen linebackers Justus Rogers and Jahad Woods have stepped up. They have combined for 41 tackles and five tackles for loss over the past three games.

Grinch said he expects all his players to be able to step up when somebody goes down.

“We have an anticipation from a coaching staff standpoint that whoever is in the football game is going to be ready to play, and play at a high level,” Grinch said.

Redshirt senior quarterback Luke Falk said the energy Grinch brings to the defense plays a role in how they perform on the field.

“I think Coach Grinch does a great job of firing those guys up,” Falk said. “They were tough to play in fall camp and I’m glad to see them doing it to some other team other than us.”

Grinch said he feels fortunate to be able to wake up every day and coach the game he loves.

“It’s the greatest team sport that ever was or ever will be,” he said.