The circle of blame connecting Lincoln Riley and Alex Grinch — and not just at USC

“Amusing” might not be the perfect word for this situation, but it does capture a part of the mixed emotions at USC after the Trojans’ defense stepped on a rake and blew a late 15-point lead in the Cotton Bowl against Tulane.

It’s not something to be happy about, but it’s also not something to be angry at, and there is a humorous (if perhaps darkly so) angle to all of this.

In the wake of another USC implosion on defense, a lot of people (fans and analysts alike) are saying that Alex Grinch really isn’t the problem here. It’s actually Lincoln Riley for employing Alex Grinch and being okay with having him as defensive coordinator, instead of someone much better. That’s a fair point. It’s not the whole story, but it is certainly part of it.

Riley didn’t have to bring Grinch with him from Oklahoma to USC, but he wanted to.

Let’s now flip this conversation to the other side of the coin: Alex Grinch didn’t have to follow Lincoln Riley to USC. You could say there was immense pressure to do so, and not leave Lincoln Riley in the lurch, but Grinch — if he didn’t privately want to make the move — was certainly under no moral or ethical obligation to have to follow Riley. He’s not a sheepdog. He’s a grown man who can make his own choices. He could have sought a lower-tier coordinator job or maybe a Group of Five head coaching position.

Let’s not take away agency and autonomy from Grinch here. He made this choice.

So, when we discuss the idea that Alex Grinch is constantly being asked by Lincoln Riley to clean up a mess on defense (at Oklahoma in 2019 and at USC in 2022), let’s be clear: Grinch said “yes” to those requests. He did not have to! He wanted to … or at least, he wasn’t willing to choose something else. Grinch chose to enter these cleanup efforts in which he knew he was inheriting a bad defense and was being asked to make something awful “slightly less awful.”

Riley gets blame for not choosing the best defensive coordinator, but Grinch also gets blame for taking on these jobs.

He did not have to. He chose these jobs. Let’s remember that.

It is kind of amusing to see people say — or imply — that Lincoln Riley and Alex Grinch have had no other choice when, of course, they did. They could have chosen differently, but this is the path both men wanted. In the absence of other choices, we are left with no other conclusion.

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Lincoln Riley's loyalty to Alex Grinch can't exceed his loyalty to Caleb Williams and the USC offense

Story originally appeared on Trojans Wire