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Wisconsin hires Alex Grinch: Ex-USC, Oklahoma assistant joins Badgers in co-defensive coordinator role

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USATSI

Wisconsin has hired former USC assistant Alex Grinch to serve as co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach, the school announced Thursday. Grinch spent a majority of the last two seasons as defensive coordinator and safeties coach with the Trojans, continuing a partnership with coach Lincoln Riley that extended back to 2019 at Oklahoma

“I’m thrilled to be joining Coach (Luke) Fickell’s staff at Wisconsin,” Grinch said in a press release. “I’ve admired Coach Fickell’s coaching and leadership style from afar for a while and I can’t wait to enter a new era of Big Ten football on his staff at Wisconsin.”  

Grinch followed Riley from Oklahoma to USC following the 2021 season despite growing scrutiny over his defensive scheme. That fire grew more intense during the 2022 season when USC gave up 136 points in its three losses, including a whopping 46 in its Cotton Bowl loss to Tulane

Despite a massive transfer portal haul on that side of the ball, USC’s defensive numbers plummeted in 2023. At the time of his firing in November, the Trojans were near the bottom of the FBS statistical rankings (119th in total defense and 121st in scoring defense). Those numbers were, 14 and 30 spots lower than the year before, respectively. USC surrendered at least 40 points in five out of eight games against power conference teams with Grinch calling the defense. The Trojans didn’t allow another opponent to eclipse that mark in three games following his ouster. 

With the defense struggling, Riley finished with the worst record of his career at 8-5. USC also wasted a potentially special final year with former Heisman Trophy winner and likely No. 1 overall NFL Draft pick Caleb Williams at quarterback.

Grinch has shown plenty of promise throughout his career. He stock soared from 2015-17 when he was Washington State’s defensive coordinator under former coach Mike Leach. Under his guidance the Cougars went from 60th to 16th in total defense by the end of his second season. 

That led to a one-year stint as co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach at Ohio State before he was brought on as Oklahoma’s defensive coordinator in 2019. In 2020, the Sooners had a top-30 defensive unit. Grinch’s defenses have not finished in the top 50 since. 

Grinch will presumably work closely with Mike Tressel, Wisconsin’s incumbent defensive coordinator and inside linebackers coach. Tressel followed Luke Fickell to Wisconsin from Cincinnati ahead of the 2023 season and led a unit that finished seventh in the Big Ten in total defense.

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