The coaching carousel is spinning. USC isn’t looking for a head coach, and of course, its defensive coordinator spot is currently occupied. However, with coaching jobs opening up, it’s certainly a situation in which the Trojans and Lincoln Riley could encourage certain members of their staff to “pursue new opportunities,” in the parlance of the industry.
Much as the staff encouraged players to transfer out of the program one year ago so that new portal additions (such as Caleb Williams and others) could come into the program, Riley could encourage Alex Grinch to look for a head coaching job or another coordinator opening.
We all saw last year how crazy the coaching carousel can be. The wheels continue to spin as one job unexpectedly opens and replacements get filled, leaving a vacuum elsewhere. If USC wants to upgrade from Alex Grinch at defensive coordinator, there are certainly some opportunities which currently exist but might not remain available for very long.
Let’s look at the landscape, focusing on one situation which just took a significant turn.
Wisconsin head coach Jim Leonhard, right, is shown during the first quarter of their game against Minnesota Saturday, November 26, 2022 at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wis.
Jim Leonhard was thinking about staying on with new Wisconsin head coach Luke Fickell, working as Fickell’s defensive coordinator. However, he chose to not remain at UW for the 2023 season. He’ll coach the bowl game and then move on.
Nov 26, 2022; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Wisconsin Badgers head coach Jim Leonhard reacts to a play during the third quarter against the Minnesota Golden Gophers at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Leonhard did a great job with the Wisconsin defense this year, just as he does every year. Leonhard didn’t get the Wisconsin head coaching job because Badger QB Graham Mertz simply could not turn his career around. Mertz essentially tanked the coaching tenure of Paul Chryst and the audition for Leonhard, but that has nothing to do with Leonhard’s defensive coaching acumen.
LEONHARD VS GRINCH
Wisconsin safeties Collin Wilder (18) and Tyler Mais work with defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard at practice Friday, August 13, 2021, at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wisconsin.
No one would debate the claim that Jim Leonhard is a better defensive coordinator than Alex Grinch. USC would be getting a clear upgrade … if Lincoln Riley is interested in making a change.
LET'S BE VERY CLEAR HERE
Southern California head coach Lincoln Riley, left, talks with defensive coordinator Alex Grinch during an NCAA college football practice Thursday, March 24, 2022, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
There are no indications Riley wants to fire or replace Grinch. Let’s make that point very clear. However, if Riley does want to make an upgrade, Leonhard being a free agent should certainly be an item of interest for him.
GREEN BAY PACKER DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR COULD BE LEONHARD'S DESIRED LANDING SPOT
ONE POSSIBLE ALTERNATIVE
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – SEPTEMBER 03: Defensive coordinator Alex Grinch on the sidelines during a 66-14 Trojans win over the Rice Owls at United Airlines Field at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on September 03, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
One path for Riley and USC to consider: Bring in Jim Leonhard as a co-defensive coordinator with Grinch. Yes, Leonhard would be unlikely to accept such an arrangement, but the other point about this is that it could be a one-year deal, with Leonhard using 2023 to consider his options, gain experience outside the Big Ten, and then enter 2024 with an elevated profile and enhanced resume if the Trojans make the College Football Playoff in 2023.
With the Purdue job now open, Leonhard might consider making a run at the job. USC and Lincoln Riley could try to step in now and make Leonhard an offer. It’s doubtful that Alex Grinch would be in the running for that head coaching job, though Purdue defensive coordinator under the new head coach might not be outside the realm of possibility if the head coach is someone Grinch knows and likes.