'Don't bet against him': Lincoln Riley explains decision to keep Alex Grinch at USC
In a meeting with local media members on Tuesday, USC head coach Lincoln Riley revealed that he plans to retain defensive coordinator Alex Grinch for another season.
As USC closed out the 2022 campaign with back-to-back losses, both of which featured more than 40 points surrendered by the defense, Grinch’s seat grew hot as his approach came under fire. Calls to replace him exploded after the Trojans’ 46-45 loss to Tulane in the Cotton Bowl.
Riley still believes Grinch can turn a Trojan defense around that ranked among the worst in the country this past season.
“I don’t even feel 50/50 at all conflicted about it,” Riley said, per The Athletic’s Antonio Morales. “I have a clear vision of what we’re going to be defensively, and I think we can and will and need to take a big jump here in the next 12 months.”
In its Cotton Bowl loss to end the year 11-3, USC gave up 46 points to a Tulane team that only ran 52 plays. This was the crux of the issue all year. USC’s defense largely lived and died by its ability to force turnovers.
The Trojans had 28 takeaways, the sixth-most in all of college football. That number included 19 interceptions, which ranked third in the country.
But it ended the year ranked 124th out of 131 FBS programs in yards allowed per play, giving up 6.5 a play. Each of USC’s final three opponents topped 7 yards per play, and three of the Trojans’ final four opponents topped 40 points.
When all was said and done, USC ranked outside the top 100 nationally in rushing yards per carry allowed, passing yards per play allowed, success rate allowed, third-down defense, fourth-down defense, and red zone touchdown percentage allowed.
USC’s scoring defense improved marginally year-over-year, but only enough to rank 93rd nationally.
All that meant was that a Heisman Trophy season from quarterback Caleb Williams would bring 11 wins and nothing more. USC played for a Pac-12 title but lost 47-24. That defeat knocked the Trojans out of the College Football Playoff. They then played for a New Year’s Six bowl game and lost.
When Riley took the job a year ago, he was adamant for months that the Trojans would be a team that aimed for a national championship and wouldn’t set the bar any lower. To reach that level, major defensive improvement needs to be made.
Per Morales, Riley acknowledged the defense wore down at the end of the year, which he attributed to a lack of depth and young talent.
“I’ve been through it enough with that guy to know don’t bet against him,” Riley said, per Morales. “We need to be better. Better as coaches, we need to be better as players, and we need to own the things we did well, and we need to own and fix the things we didn’t do well.
“I know what he’s made of. I just do. I know what’s getting ready to happen defensively. I have a confidence and belief there not just (with) Alex but the other guys in the room. … The reality is for us to make the jump defensively we’ve got to make, yeah the roster’s got to get better. The development’s got to get better. I have to be better in my role for it. I still have an important role there and to be honest I’m looking at this excited at what I can do better.”