The 2021 coaching carousel taught me — and a lot of other people who have been following college football for a long time — to never say never. What seemed absolutely ridiculous and highly implausible became reality, and not just once, either.
Lincoln Riley left Oklahoma to coach USC. Brian Kelly then left Notre Dame to coach LSU. Neither turn of events seemed remotely possible or the slightest bit realistic. Just one of those two things happening was an earthquake. Both of them happening on consecutive days was an end-of-the-world-level comet hitting the planet in terms of impact, disruption and chaos.
Never say never. We won’t guarantee that Alex Grinch will stay at USC and not take the Arizona State job, but we’re certainly not convinced he will bolt.
It’s still very unlikely that Alex Grinch would leave USC and Lincoln Riley for Arizona State. Let’s explain why.
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)
Lincoln Riley has been very loyal to Alex Grinch, on a scale which would certainly seem to merit reciprocal loyalty from Grinch to his boss. Start with that point. Many people think Riley should have hired a much better defensive coordinator at USC. Grinch knows Riley has trusted him on a level other coaches would not have displayed.
THE NEXT STEP
Precisely because Riley has been loyal to Alex Grinch, the defensive coordinator knows he needs to get Riley and USC to the national championship game. Riley has made the College Football Playoff three times as a head coach, four if you count his 2015 season as Oklahoma offensive coordinator, but he has not yet won a playoff semifinal. Grinch needs to get USC to that stage. If he does, then his value in the coaching carousel marketplace would skyrocket.
Jul 14, 2022; Arlington, TX; Oklahoma Sooners head coach Brent Venables is interviewed during the Big 12 Media Day at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Look at former Oklahoma defensive coordinator Brent Venables. He waited a long time to take a head coaching job. Coaching Clemson as a coordinator and winning national titles as a coordinator prepared him for the Oklahoma job. Alex Grinch can see that if he bides his time and crushes it as USC’s defensive coordinator, an elite job — bigger than Arizona State — will be waiting for him in several years. He, like Venables, can be patient and wait for his big chance.
Dec 31, 2019; El Paso, Texas, USA; Arizona State Sun Devils head coach Herm Edwards, middle, celebrates with ASU AD Ray Anderson, left, and Tony the Tiger after defeating the Florida State Seminoles 20-14 in the Sun Bowl. Ivan Pierre Aguirre-USA TODAY Sports
Grinch knows that ASU Athletic Director Ray Anderson hired Herm Edwards and has presided over the mess which has emerged in Tempe. No coaching candidate with an interest in advancing his career should want to be hired by Anderson. ASU needs to change athletic directors first. Then Grinch might reasonably consider the job … but not now.
NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis.
No ASU candidate should apply for the job until knowing what the NCAA penalties are for COVID-19 recruiting violations committed by the school under Herm Edwards’ watch.
Why take the Arizona State job when it’s unknown what the Pac-12 will look like in 2024, when USC goes to the Big Ten?
BIG 12 CHANGES
Remember: Cincinnati, Houston, BYU, and UCF are heading to the Big 12. That could change the marketplace as well. UCF is struggling under head coach Gus Malzahn. That job could come open in a few years, and it might be a better opening than Arizona State. Grinch could choose to wait two years and then take a run at that job if the door opens.
Arizona State President Michael Crow speaks during a press conference regarding the Tohono O’odham Nation’s $2M contribution to support COVID-19 research at the University of Arizona and Arizona State University on Oct. 19, 2020, at the University of Arizona College of Medicine
Grinch can see that ASU President Michael Crow has not yet fired Ray Anderson. He can see that Crow took a long time to finally fire Herm Edwards. Why take a job at a school whose president doesn’t seem to understand how important football is?
Grinch would face a big challenge if he took the ASU job, but he already has a big challenge at USC. Why trade one big challenge for another, when the current challenge already offers the promise of a substantial career boost if Grinch can succeed? He already has a test which, if passed, can make his career. There’s simply no need to jump ship and look at something else. Master the USC job, boost the resume, then look for a job. It’s that simple.
ASU, precisely because of looming NCAA penalties, is likely to take a coach with a lower national profile who wants to spend plenty of years in Tempe. Sanctions would affect the first few years of the program’s development. This is not a quick-fix job due to the NCAA component of the situation at ASU. Grinch has the high national profile and is not in a position to start from the ground up. Grinch, with previous experience at Ohio State, is used to competing for national championships. Why take a clear step down?