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Alex Grinch: Not the hire we wanted, but maybe the one WSU needs

Excitement and frustration are both in ready supply in the wake of WSU hiring the former safeties coach at Missouri to be the Cougars' defensive coordinator.

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

I have two distinct, competing emotions in the wake of the announcement of Alex Grinch as the next defensive coordinator at WSU.

Let's start with the positive: I heartily endorse elevating a young position coach over settling for a retread who has demonstrated little more than mediocre results in his career. Hiring an unproven guy like Grinch probably is WSU's best shot at getting someone awesome in the position.

He's the redshirt freshman you heard about lighting up Thursday Night Football who has a steady but athletically limited upperclassmen in front of him. He's the backup quarterback who has a cannon for an arm behind a noodle-armed game manager.

The guys who are starting are fine. You know what you're going to get. But that's sort of the problem - the upside is limited. You might crash and burn with a young guy ... but there's that possibility that he's amazing.

And you'll never find out if you never give that young guy a shot.

I've advocated for this kind of high variance strategy at WSU before. The reality of life in so many aspects of Cougar athletics is that traditional just won't cut it for our programs to have sustained success. Yes, there are things that we have to do that everyone else does - such as build first class facilities - but the reality is that barring some sort of crazy major donor intervention, Pullman will always be Pullman, our athletics department probably will always be among the smallest in the Pac-12, and those things probably will always demand a different way of approaching things strategically.

Hiring Mike Leach - a quasi-blackballed coach who runs a niche system - was a similar kind of high variance strategy. Maybe he actually is as crazy as the Texas Tech administration tried to make him sound, and the whole thing goes up in flames.

Or maybe he got a bad rap, his niche system allows the school to recruit better than it ever has before - in part because quarterbacks want to throw it a billion times and competent wide receivers are plentiful - and the program returns to its previously unprecedented success of a decade before.

Schools with other advantages can have success with caretakers. Heck, I know at least one person who believes Mike Breske did well at Montana - a top-tier program, compared to its peers - for that very reason. Coming to WSU requires something different.

Grinch might be terrible. But he might be awesome. And that potential upside makes a hire like this the right kind of hire if you can't land an established guy who already has a demonstrated track record of excellence.

But it's that last part that provides the competing emotion: Out and out frustration at the fact that WSU couldn't lure a proven commodity.

Oh, I know there's a story out there about how amazing Grinch's interview was, how he blew them out of the water with his passion and ideas. And I don't doubt the veracity of that report. I trust he was, indeed, spectacular.

The simplest explanation is usually the best explanation, and the simplest explanation is that nobody of any note whatsoever wanted to take on this job.

But implicit in the story is that somehow he won the job by being the best candidate, and there's just no possible way that's true. WSU Athletics Director Bill Moos stated from the outset that Leach had a short list, and that they hoped to hire someone quickly. Weeks passed. Moos eventually said they were looking at people with proven track records as quality defensive coordinators in college and the NFL. He suggested he was prepared to open the checkbook in order to land a quality guy.

More time passed. Still more time passed.

And then they hired a guy who is 34 and has never been a coordinator at any level.

People can come up with whatever elaborate explanation they want about how we ended up here, but I tend to go with Occam's razor whenever possible: The simplest explanation is usually the best explanation, and the simplest explanation?

Nobody of any note whatsoever wanted to take on this job.

I can't speak with any authority as to how far down the list Grinch was. But given everything we know about how the process played out, the simplest explanation is that they struck out on the guys that they targeted. Former Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz probably was one. Former Cal and USC defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast probably was another one. Since Moos said there was a list, we can presume there were others - you can decide how many you think that is - who had natural ties to Leach or his staff who were contacted, either formally or informally. You also could look at how quickly other jobs of seeming lesser profile were filled with established defensive coordinators.

And after six weeks, WSU landed on a guy who is the opposite in every way of what Moos said they were looking for.

Maybe Moos was just engaging in some AD-speak for some purpose I can't quite figure out, but what Moos said they were looking for is actually the thing that makes the most sense for where the program is at. The offense is starting to hum, and it's undeniable that the defense is what held WSU back in 2014. So it makes absolute logical sense that you'd want to get a guy with a proven track record of improving defenses quickly - a significant jump in the quality of play on that side of the ball can result in a significant jump in the win total in 2015.

Is there going to be a significant jump on defense with Grinch leading them in 2015?

Maybe? There's nowhere to go but up, really, so there's a decent chance that the defense would improve with you or me leading the way. But how much will it improve? Will it improve as much as it would have under a guy like Pendergast?

There's sure to be a learning curve for Grinch, who doesn't have the luxury of being a first time coordinator under a coach who specializes on that side of the ball. While I'm sure he'll get support from his assistants - particularly linebackers coach Ken Wilson, who has been a coordinator - Grinch is more or less on an island.

That makes me incredibly uneasy.

And therein lies my frustration. Again, Grinch could prove to be a prodigy who does everything with the defense we ever could have hoped for with Diaz or Pendergast leading the way. I'm not upset about Diaz, because who's going to turn down Mississippi State for WSU? But Pendergast sure looks like he'd rather go back to being a lesser-paid NFL position coach than defensive coordinator at this Power 5 school. And given the length of the search and who was eventually hired, I'm presuming at least a few other guys decided they'd just as soon stay where they are.

That stings, especially as we try to move away from the image of Little Ol' Wazzu.

But now that we do have a coordinator, my excitement is steadily overtaking my initial frustration. At the very least, it's going to be fascinating to watch it unfold, and the unknown of what Grinch is going to do - I got a chuckle out of the fourth and fifth paragraphs in this story, because of the hilarious vagueness of it all - is going to make spring ball interesting to follow. He got more specific on his scheme here, and I honestly can't wait to see how it comes together.

Grinch might not have been the guy I wanted, but he's the guy we have. And who knows? Maybe what this defense needs more than any radical schemes is a dose of confidence and attitude, which Grinch seems to have plenty of.

It's working for Ernie Kent!