NORMAN — Alex Grinch failed.
It isn’t me saying it, or you. It’s him.
Monday evening, Oklahoma’s defensive coordinator reflected on the Sooners’ loss at Kansas State and said: “You’re coming off a situation where you failed. There’s been a scrimmage where we failed. When I say we, I mean me. I did a poor job.”
He said: “Our sport doesn’t allow that on Saturday. It’s the one sport that doesn’t. It’s the one level of football that you’re not able to fail. Unfortunately we did. I failed.”
He said: “The story of our season has been getting off the field on third downs and our failure to get takeaways. It turns into a disadvantage if you don’t get off the field on third down and we continue to fail to get takeaways. And again, it goes back to coaching, and I failed.”
Is this a coach removing blame from his players, protecting kids from the imbeciles hammering them on Twitter? Sure, to some degree.
But it is also a coach who, in my experience around him since Lincoln Riley hired him 10 months ago, takes his work so personally it’s a little frightening. There are times I want to interrupt Grinch’s media sessions and advise him to smile. Just a little. Just once to lessen the gravitas.
Grinch is all about gravitas. And here is where that should benefit the Sooners as they approach both their bounce-back game against Iowa State on Saturday night and the rest of their season.
He has taken full responsibility for his defense’s retreat at K-State from the moment he sat down behind the microphones.
A sample from his postgame briefing: “In the end, not making plays. And why is that? It comes back to coaching. Why didn’t you get a couple third-down stops that were negated by penalties? Again, it’s coaching.”
Also: “We’ve gotta do a better job as coaches, obviously starting with me.”
The theme continued the following week of practice.
“If you’d ask the coaches and players, we practiced six hours a day last week,” Grinch said. “That’s the way it should be. That should be the response when you don’t get the outcomes you want. You point the fingers at yourself.”
It continued Monday evening in the interview room after practice. You read the quotes just now. Let me give you another one.
I asked Grinch about the urgency in a situation like this, with observers suddenly doubting his defense and his team suddenly in a precarious spot as it relates to the Big 12 Conference and College Football Playoff races.
At Washington State, where Grinch made his mark as defensive coordinator from 2015-17, nobody stayed in bed if the team lost a game. It meant the Cougars might not go to the Rose Bowl, but, hey, the Holiday Bowl wasn’t bad.
Here, the only accepted postseason landing is the playoff. The only shot the Sooners have at that is winning the rest of their games, and that is best assured by Grinch repairing the holes from K-State, by his not failing again.
So about that urgency…
“I think in the moment the stakes are the stakes based on where you’re at. I understand the question,” Grinch said. “There’s other places you’re going to have some tough Saturdays and you battle through and find a way to get to a bowl game and all those things. Obviously the standards here are much higher.”
Grinch understood that the day he accepted Riley’s offer. He understood that when he accepted Urban Meyer’s at Ohio State in 2018.
“Whatever titles or roles that you’re given, your job is to exceed the expectations of the head coach,” Grinch said at the news conference introducing him as Buckeyes co-defensive coordinator. “Obviously the expectations here are very, very high.”
Grinch soared past expectations around here as OU flew to a 7-0 start. Not that he noticed or cared, since his defense had taken the ball just six times and takeaways were everything to him. That was his fault, too.
Now OU is 7-1, his defense still has just six takeaways, and some fans are scared to death the slip-up at K-State is about to become the first snowball down the mountain. You can’t blame them given OU’s recent defensive ways.
However it turns out, Grinch is here to tell you it’s on him. Whether it’s true misses the point. It is a lesson in accountability.
Assuming Grinch’s players are paying attention, and the setback at K-State matters even half as much to them as it does their coordinator, this bodes well.
“If I can put one term on what the practices have been like,” defensive captain Kenneth Murray said, “it’s urgency.”
You might even be optimistic about however it turns out, Saturday night and beyond.