Initial thoughts on the Big 12’s silly season

Next year in the B12 is going to be wildly different than previous ones this decade. The cast of characters is going to be wildly different with normal turnover of some big time quarterbacks along with some abnormal turnover of some big time coaches.

West Virginia has never had another coach in the Big 12 other than Dana Holgorsen, but he’s off to the H-town to live his dream. Fellow Raid Bro Neal Brown is now coming to Morgantown from Troy. K-State has barely had a coach other than Bill Snyder but he’s been put out to pasture for ND State dynasty-builder Chris Klieman. Longtime Texas Tech alumnus Kliff Kingsbury is technically in Los Angeles but there’s a new rumor every day about where he might be next. Les Miles is seated in Lawrence on a wobbly throne which has been patched back together with police tape.

Mike Gundy’s longtime former FCS assistant Mike Yurcich is headed to Ohio State to help Ryan Day build the new Buckeye spread and now Ohio State defensive assistant Alex Grinch is coming to Oklahoma to fix Lincoln Riley’s biggest problem.

Image result for grinch gif

There’s a lot to suss out but here’s just a few scattershot initial reflections.

West Virginia is now an enigma for 2019

They aren’t devoid of talent on either side of the ball and they’ll have a couple of options at QB and I’m sure plenty of really talented wideouts who’ve been waiting their turn. Their defense has quite a bit back, especially in the secondary, although presumably Vic Koenning is coming to finally teach quarters coverage.

I’ll dive in more in the coming weeks and have only just started to refresh myself on Neal Brown’s Troy teams. His offense is not terribly far from Dana Holgorsen’s though and DC Vic Koenning was a big fan of quarters coverage, hybrid personnel, and trying to outnumber the run with speed which are all solid starting points in the Big 12.

Lincoln Riley stays in the Raid bro network again

The hopes in Norman were that Riley was going to hire hotshot young DC Pete Golding from Alabama to come and bring Saban state secrets for the purpose of beefing up Oklahoma’s sorry defense. Presumably Golding turned that opportunity down, or perhaps Riley felt that Grinch was the better option, I’m not in a position to know. We do know that Riley has made yet another hire from within the Air Raid network. If it goes south that will speak poorly to his ability to recruit coaches from outside his network, but there’s some good reasons to believe that Grinch is a really good coach.

Here’s what I do know about Grinch:

-He played DB at the Larry Kehres Mount Union D3 dynasty and has three championship rings from those days. Mount Union is an Ohio based, spread innovator that also produced Matt Campbell.

-His first big coaching opportunity came from Gary Pinkel at Missouri where he coached safeties. Then Mike Leach gave him a big shot to be a DC at Wazzu. He produced a very interesting and effective Cougar unit, largely built around stemming and slanting the DL and quarters coverages behind them. Star DT Hercules Mata’afa was a key piece to the puzzle and they played small at a lot of positions.

-Things went south at Ohio State. Urban Meyer hired him to be co-DC with Greg Schiano and safeties coach, presumably looking to lock him down before Oklahoma could swoop in to nab him and then promote him to sole DC when Greg Schiano inevitably took a HC job somewhere. But then there was a populares revolt at Tennessee that sunk Schiano’s chances at the Vols job and really hurt him nationally as well. Then there was the extremely suspicious scandal at Ohio State that resulted in young Ryan Day being named interim over both Schiano and Kevin Wilson. Then Urban Meyer suddenly started having some health issues and Day was named HC with Meyer exiled to purgatory to teach irony to Ohio State students and find new ways to give non-answers to the inevitable questions about when he’d start coaching again. From all of that wreckage, Lincoln Riley has now plucked Grinch.

Here’s what I’m looking at next:

-What does Lincoln Riley do at S&C coach? Benny Wylie’s reputation doesn’t seem much improved after a year in Norman but it doesn’t sound like he’s on his way out either. This is key because your S&C coach is your culture coach and defense is largely a reflection of culture.

-Which defensive staff does Grinch keep and who goes? Kerry Cooks has had a really bad time the last few years, producing a lot of coverage defenders that can’t find the ball in the air and can’t tackle. He may have been victimized by bad circumstances.

-How does Grinch mold an optimal unit from the pieces left over on the Oklahoma defensive roster. This team is returning a lot of contributors on that side of the ball, but they very badly need him to make good on his background as a safeties coach and shore up what’s perhaps the weakest part of the entire roster.

Jacobs Murders Oklahoma'S Defense GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

The real art of coordinating is figuring out how to build cohesive units where the players’ skill sets complement each other in the midst of year to year personnel turnover. Ruffin McNeil was doing a decent job of that in the chance he had at the end of the year, Grinch certainly did that well when he had Hercules Mata’afa. It’ll be interesting to see what he makes of this OU roster.

Chris Klieman’s staff is just about assembled

It looks pretty much like you’d expect if your suspicion was that Klieman was always the guy Gene Taylor wanted to hire AND that Bill Snyder had some stipulations about his departure from the program.

Collin Klein, Blake Seiler, Charlie Dickey, and Chris Dawson were some of the nice pieces to the Snyder staff. The former two are up and coming young coaches that are versed primarily in Snyder-ball but that’s such an expansive realm of football knowledge that they’re both probably pretty adaptable. Klieman retained each with Klein remaining as QB coach to teach the art of QB power under former Bison OC Courtney Messingham and Seiler moving back to DL coach to make room for new hires at LB, S, and CB.

Dickey is moving on to make room for the ND State OL coach Conor Riley. I’ve yet to see if Klieman is bringing his S&C coach from ND State or retaining Dawson. DC Ted Monachino was an impressive addition who was with the Baltimore Ravens during a time when they were playing pretty good defense, utilizing hybrids, and playing with two-deep coverages. I recall them beating the crap out of the Patriots in the playoffs en route to a Super Bowl win over Colin Kaepernick and the Jim Harbaugh 49ers.

They also added Ball State grad transfer James Gilbert to patch the hole in their depth chart at RB.

There are still some major, looming decisions about the NFL draft 

Oklahoma predictably lost Marquise Brown and Cody Ford, but we’ve yet to see whether OU will have to start over at four out of five OL positions with Bobby Evans potentially coming back. The dream of adding Justin Fields is now dead but there’s still a chance that Kyler Murray could forego millions from playing baseball, I suppose.

Personally I suspect that Spencer Rattler will end up starting. Tanner Mordecai doesn’t have a huge leg up in terms of protections or learning Big 12 defenses and Kendall Austin doesn’t seem to be favored. I haven’t studied Rattler much, I just know the reputation his reputation as a passing genius.

Texas is getting Collin Johnson back and Malcolm Roach also announced he’s returning, although I’d have never guessed that was in question. Roach could be a brilliant freak next year as a featured weapon in the defensive scheme, this year he missed most of the middle of the season due to an injury. They’re still awaiting a decision from Lil’Jordan Humphrey, which actually looks almost as promising as Bobby Evans for Oklahoma.

As I’ve noted before, if Humphrey returns then Texas is the frontrunner in the Big 12 and also a playoff contender. If he’s gone then they have a lot to figure out in terms of how they want to attack the middle of the field on offense.


  1. Clayton Davis

    I would be surprised by Rattler starting. He’s got to come in and learn the offense over the summer to beat at two guys with time in the program. Reportedly coaches like both of them a lot.

    • ianaboyd

      Yeah we’ll see. I just think with the modern game and this offense, if the most talented guy can play you play them. But if these guys give them the best shot to repeat as B12 champs then you go that route. Can always plug in the young guy later like Clemson did.

  2. Will

    I think the Brown hire is a great one the more I dig into it. He was a source of consistent improvement as an OC and brought some four star kids to UK.

    As a HC he had a huge bump in year two, including almost beating Clemson (would have won if not for what I thought at the time was a bogus overturned fumble return), beat LSU in year three, hit the reset button at QB this year and beat Nebraska and won ten games for the third year in a row at a program that had never done that once. Recruiting improved three years in a row and was 70th this, which is off the charts at Troy.

    I have read that his DC may not be coming along. He might get the HC gig at Troy and there is a lot of WVU booster pressure to retain Gibson. At this point, Gibby’s defenses have been outright bad two years in a row so I don’t love that rumor.

    • ianaboyd

      Hopefully they didn’t pass on Fickell because Brown was willing to retain Gibson. But maybe WVU can be much better on D next year, they do have a lot of solid players back.

  3. Matt

    Ian, your favorite blogger, MatchQuarters just did a breakdown on Grinch’s D over at TFB. They talk extensively about the two important hybrid positions in Grinch’s D: the nickel and the DE/ OLB. Who on the Sooners roster do you think plays those spots? I’m thinking the only guy that sounds close to what Grinch wants in a nickel is Barnes, unless you think a corner can play that? The Hybrid DE, who do you think fits there? Should they move Murray there? Or did you see enough out of him as an ILB this year to think he could blossom under Grinch there?

    • ianaboyd

      Oh wow I missed that, I’ll have to catch up with my boy Cody. Honestly I think the bigger questions for Grinch are whether he’ll shift down again to dime and what he’ll do to set up the existing personnel as best he can. OU was strongest in 4-3 base personnel this year and unless they can teach Kelly to play ILB that may not change.

      But Perkins is the DE/OLB hybrid, easy. The nickel is probably Kelly and maybe they need to invest in creating a hybrid money-backer position he can play in dime.

      • Matt

        Oh got it. I would think Perkins highest upside is at a true DE/DT whatever position. I know he was only a freshman but to my totally untrained eye he seemed like a stopgap at the Jack. Also, I wouldn’t have thought Kelly for the nickel either. It’ll be really interesting to see how it plays out.

        • ianaboyd

          Perkins is an edge guy all the way, lotta promise there.

          It’ll be interesting to see what Grinch makes of Kelly.

          • quigley

            Perkins and Jalen Redmond should both play 50 snaps a game at the edge, most spelling each other but occasionally in rush packages.

            Ryan Jones has the speed, agility, and size to be a tremendous nickel. They need to let him lose weight and get out of the box. He was miscast there this year.

  4. System Poster

    Neal Brown is confounding to me. On the one hand, what he’s done at Troy is impressive (I think?), but on the other, for an offensive coach, his offenses have been bad, which has to be troubling. His offenses at Tech were a clear step back from what Leach fielded. The common refrain was that Tuberville was holding him back, but the problem with that is his Tech offenses were the best he’s ever fielded, dating back to his time at Louisiana Tech. For that reason, I was happy when Tech chose to look elsewhere. But on the other hand, he’s won a lot of games. I’ll be interested in seeing what he does at WVU.

    I think Riley made a really smart hire in going after a guy with experience coaching under an air raid head coach. It seems like there’s always a learning curve in figuring out how to field a defense that complements an air raid offense and it will be to Oklahoma’s advantage that Grinch has already cut his teeth with Leach. Maybe he can also extract some concessions to physicality in practice from Riley.

    • ianaboyd

      Yeah Neal Brown seems to have a stronger resume as a head coach than as an offensive guru, but that’s not a bad sign.

      I think it’s most likely that WVU downgraded from Holgorsen, who was an offensive guru and also had developed as a HC. We’ll see tho, Vic Koenning is gonna bring some fun stuff on defense.

  5. quigley

    Grinch at OU makes sense for several reasons.
    1. He’s figured out that you need outs when playing opposite a prolific offense. Modern football is becoming more like rugby in that it is about ball possession rather than real estate.

    His defense’s job is to get the ball back to the offense without giving up a TD — possession is key. Getting outs is key. Who cares about field position when your offense could go yard every play. Just get the ball back to the offense. Therefore, he’s willing to give up big plays to get stops in a row. EFFICIENCY is key, preventing explosive plays doesn’t matter if your offense is the most explosive the country.

    2. Picking a style and recruiting to it. One of OU’s problems has been a lack of identity on defense. He has an expressed identity. Hopefully, he can stick to it.

    3. Culture fit. You’re viewing him staying within the Leach tree as a downside. In large organizations, hiring a manager with a predicted culture fit is actually really important because getting along is important. Mike Stoops had strengths, but he appeared to be a grating personality.

    Where this fails is if the person fits culturally but isn’t competent for the task. I worry about this with Wiley.

    I’m concerned that the strength coach doesn’t understand the force equation (f = ma). Acceleration is just as important as mass. College football players can’t sacrifice agility to gain mass.

    • ianaboyd

      What have you been hearing about Wiley? I’ve heard more the opposite, that he sacrifices mass a lot with his cross fit style workouts. I think the idea is to build players that can play more snaps and not get worn down. Seems like they did that this year but they lacked strength up front.

      I totally agree about Grinch’s philosophy and how it’s important for Riley to hire guys that fit within the program culture and philosophy. The concern is more about whether Riley knows how to find that outside of a limited network or not. Really the Grinch hire is less concerning here than the Wylie hire.

      • quigley

        I have no insight into the program, but it’s obvious that OU didn’t have the different programs necessary for different players to achieve the appropriate force at the point of attack :
        – DTs need mass, strong legs, quickness over 2 steps; mass > acceleration
        – DEs need mass and strength but more agility; mass = acceleration
        – LB need strength but more agility to be able to navigate around players and disengage from blocks; acceleration > mass. Crossfit could be great for LBs but isn’t relevant for DL.

        More than that, they need an understanding of angles to disrupt plays. Patterson is a genius at teaching this. I think it’s because the Frogs’ coaches understand the opposing offense’s OL scheme and devise paths to disrupt plays early after the snap. They are good at teaching their players this.

        OU’s DL was fat, not strong. They weren’t quick or fast. LB ran into blocks and were content to stay blocked. Bolton was a baller, but LB lacked lateral quickness and agility in general. DaShaun White and Ryan Jones look like players.

        Kenneth Murray may need to be a rush end. He lacks the power to stone OL in the hole, speed to cover RB, and agility to tackle quick players.

        • ianaboyd

          That’s all more or less what the knock on Wylie has been. He doesn’t build collision fighters.

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