COLUMBUS — Gary Pinkel had a rule against hiring friends or family — at least until he accepted that one of the fastest-rising names in college coaching just happened to be related to him.
Ohio State hired Alex Grinch from Washington State to a two-year contract this offseason.
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The former coach at Toledo and Missouri is the uncle of new Ohio State co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach Alex Grinch and, because of some convincing by his assistant coaches, Grinch’s former boss.
Pinkel had an opening on his staff after the 2011 football season at Missouri, where Grinch previously had been a graduate assistant. The rule was the rule, but a trio of assistants all lobbied Pinkel to change his mind.
“I had an opening, and I had three coaches come in and say, ‘We know you’re never going to do this, but you gotta hire Alex here. He’s perfect,’” Pinkel said. “I knew Alex was really good, but I had three coaches in 20 minutes come in and say the same thing to me, so I broke my code that I never hired friends and I never hired family.”
Pinkel listened, and Grinch has flown up the coaching ranks. After three years with the Tigers, Grinch spent three years as Washington State’s defensive coordinator, where he was nominated for the Broyles Award as college’s football top assistant coach each year.
Starting with this season, football programs now can have 10 paid coaches on staff, and Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer pursued Grinch to be Ohio State’s 10th.
Despite numerous offers from all around the country, the Grove City, Ohio, native accepted Meyer’s offer.
“You look at the pluses, minuses, and certainly there are a lot of pluses at a place like Ohio State,” Grinch said this week.
Grinch’s ascension to Ohio State is the latest extension of the Mount Union coaching tree.
He won three Division III national championships under former Mount Union coach Larry Kehres, and he was the college teammate of Iowa State coach Matt Campbell and Toledo coach Jason Candle.
“I tell everybody this: I’m the least successful Mount Union coach there is. I’m just hanging on,” Grinch said.
“You get your undergrad in coaching at a place like that, and that was tremendous opportunity for all of us to learn from that coaching staff,” Grinch added.
At Washington State, Grinch’s defenses made fast improvements. The Cougars went from one of worst defenses in the Pac-12 to 16th nationally in 2017, which included 28 turnovers forced, the fifth-most in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Indianapolis Colts tight ends coach Tom Manning, a fellow Mount Union graduate who met Grinch through Campbell and Candle, said Grinch has earned the accolades that have come his way the past few seasons.
“He coaches his players really hard, and the players have a great amount of respect for him,” Manning said. “He’s a very detail-oriented guy that gets the most out of everybody that’s around him.”
Grinch signed a two-year contract worth $800,000 per year with Ohio State.
Pinkel called Grinch “very loyal,” but said the 37-year-old has a bright future in college football.
“There’s no question that he will be a head football coach,” Pinkel said.
The Buckeyes are hoping Grinch can add to a Buckeyes program that finished ninth in total defense a season ago.
Grinch said the goal of any assistant coach “is to exceed the expectations of the head coach, and obviously the expectations here are very, very high.”
Ohio State felt fortunate Grinch accepted its offer, and Pinkel said Grinch has all the attributes of a coach who can sustain success in college football.
“He has a lot of things going for him,” Pinkel said. “He’s a really good person, he’s remarkably talented, he’s remarkably competitive, and he knows how to treat people.
“And if you know how to do all those things, you have a chance to be really successful in this business.”
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