Alex Grinch says USC can’t rush its defensive overhaul

As Alex Grinch sat down to process the disastrous end to his debut season as USC’s defensive coordinator, he began the worst of the worst.

The explosive games. The missed duels. The nervous breakdowns. Considering the nearly 2,000 yards his defense gave up in the last four games, there was plenty to sift through in November and December alone.

“You rip the band-aid off real quick,” Grinch said Tuesday. “That’s the right thing.”

After USC’s embarrassing bowl loss, frustrated fans begged Lincoln Riley to let Grinch go. But the coach made it clear in January, at the height of that frustration, that his faith in the coordinator had never wavered. Grinch was back in the office the morning after the Bowl loss trying to figure out how and why the USC defense had faltered.

More than two months later, Grinch spoke to reporters for the first time about the frustrating end of his unit. When asked about his defense improvement process, the often analytical Grinch spoke for three minutes in granular and sometimes meandering detail, explaining each of the individual lenses through which he evaluated USC’s defensive performance.

The process began, Grinch said, with looking inward first.

“It takes a lot of discipline and a lot of maturity as a coaching staff to get through that because you’re rehashing the most frustrating plays of the season and it’s fresh,” he said. “So you look at it through this lens: ‘What can we do?’ You have to have an honest review.”

What insights, if any, emerged from this self-assessment remains to be seen. But any reflection on last season’s defense contained some hard truths. USC ranked 106th in the nation in total defense and 93rd in points allowed, and even those brutal numbers don’t seem to capture where the unit stood in the fourth quarter of their bowl game, as they allowed Tulane to play more than 10 yards per count.

Riley said Tuesday he was “very pleased with the defensive progress” this spring. But Grinch wasn’t running from any of those hard truths.

“You can’t microwave it,” Grinch said of fixing USC’s defense issues. “You have to go through this. And we also have to make sure that at USC we’re not afraid to fight. We’re not afraid of the hard stuff.”

USC defense coordinator Alex Grinch keeps watch during USC spring training.

USC defense coordinator Alex Grinch keeps watch Tuesday during USC spring training.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

USC added six transfers to defense to speed up the process, and most of them appear to be on their way to making a big impact.

Those additions were most evident along the defensive front, Riley says.

Former Arizona defensive tackle Kyon Barrs looked like an instant indoor contributor, while Georgia State transferee Jamil Muhammad impressed with his explosiveness off the edge. Anthony Lucas, a former five-star defenseman, was also “intriguing” given his athleticism and size, Riley said.

“We brought some good players forward. There’s no doubt about it,” Riley said. “And we have a few more coming. There’s more competition. There’s less gap between what was good for us at the top last year and then the gap between the next level was too big. The distance is much smaller. There’s a lot more competition, a lot more talent. I think this group has shown that they have the ability to block attacks harder than our group did last year.”

It would be tempting to assume that a year of experience could make this offseason run smoother for the Grinch and his defense. But the embattled assistant expressly warned against this.

“You can’t just say, ‘It’s second year, so all things are getting better — just natural progression, we’re older, we’re better,'” Grinch said. “So we describe it to the boys, it can’t be year 1, 2.0. … Believe me, everyone loves year 2 compared to year 1. But that’s not the magic elixir either.

“We have a responsibility to stack days and work harder. But there’s a bigger entity, there’s a stronger entity, and I think it’s a very confident entity.”


USC tight end Malcolm Epps entered the NCAA transfer portal Wednesday morning. He caught three touchdown passes in two seasons with the Trojans after transferring from Texas. … USC announced the addition of former Southeastern Conference coach and NFL defenseman Greg Brown to its staff as a defensive analyst. Alex Grinch says USC can’t rush its defensive overhaul

Emma Bowman

Emma Bowman is a USTimesPost U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Emma Bowman joined USTimesPost in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing

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