After USC surrendered 101 total points in the past two games, defensive coordinator Alex Grinch was relieved of his duties, coach Lincoln Riley announced Sunday.
Grinch, who was Oklahoma’s defensive coordinator from 2019 to 2021 before leaving for USC alongside Riley, led a unit that allowed an average of 34.5 points per game this season and was in the bottom 30 in the country in nearly every statistical category, including 120th in rushing defense and 107th against the pass.
In a statement sent via a USC spokesperson, Riley named defensive line coach Shaun Nua and linebackers coach Brian Odom as co-defensive coordinators for the rest of the season.
Even going back to last season, when USC finished the year allowing 47 points to Utah in the Pac-12 title game loss and 46 points to Tulane in the Cotton Bowl loss, Grinch had been the subject of much criticism surrounding his and the unit’s performance.
“As a coach, you don’t deflect,” Grinch, who routinely took responsibility for the defense’s shortcomings on a weekly basis, said at practice last week. “I couldn’t be more disappointed in myself and the inability to get the guys to be more sound.”
Throughout the offseason, USC and Riley specifically preached patience and gave an optimistic outlook on the progress the defense would make with more time and more talent. Yet even as USC used the transfer portal to bring in defensive players such as former Georgia lineman Bear Alexander and former Oklahoma State linebacker Mason Cobb, among others, the performance of the unit did not improve. USC finished last season as the 87th-ranked team in defensive SP+. This season, it’s ranked 87th.
Riley had, until now, stood by Grinch and his efforts, but after Saturday night’s 52-42 loss to Washington (USC’s third defeat in four games), with the defense allowing 572 yards of offense and 52 points, Riley could only default to not wanting to answer “big picture questions” as it related to Grinch and the defense.
“I know as a head coach, it all falls under my responsibility ultimately,” Riley said. “I don’t shy away from that and never have, but there are times and places for those discussions and those will happen at the appropriate time.”
One source close to the program told ESPN after Saturday’s game that Grinch was “for all intents and purposes” done at USC, and while some thought Riley would wait until after the season to let him go, the coach waited less than 24 hours to make the move.
After suffering its second conference loss of the year, USC now needs to win out and get much help to have a shot at qualifying for the Pac-12 title. The Trojans head to Oregon next week to face a Ducks team that, like Washington, features one of the best offenses in the nation with plenty to play for.
And while Grinch was certainly the face of USC’s defensive issues, Riley and the rest of his staff have their work cut out for them as the program heads to the Big Ten next season hoping to not waste a top-five offense in the country like they have the past two seasons.