USC fires defensive coordinator Alex Grinch following 52-42 loss to Washington

Alex Grinch has been Lincoln Riley's defensive coordinator for the past five seasons

USC head coach Lincoln Riley is making a change to his coaching staff.

Riley announced Sunday that defensive coordinator Alex Grinch has been fired. Grinch has coached alongside Riley dating back to 2019 when Riley hired him to be his defensive coordinator at Oklahoma. Grinch then followed Riley from Oklahoma to USC ahead of the 2022 season, but USC’s defense has been a major weakness during that span.

Following a 52-42 loss to Washington on Saturday night, USC now ranks No. 122 out of 133 FBS teams in total defense (436 yards per game) and No. 124 in scoring defense (34.5 points per game).

The loss to Washington dropped USC to 7-3 overall and 4-2 in Pac-12 play. It was the Trojans’ third loss in their last four games.

Following Grinch’s dismissal, defensive line coach Shaun Tua and inside linebackers coach Brian Odom will serve as interim co-defensive coordinators for the rest of the season. Additionally, Taylor Mays, an analyst, has been elevated to a full-time on-field position coaching safeties.

Southern California head coach Lincoln Riley, left, talks with defensive coordinator Alex Grinch during an NCAA college football practice Thursday, March 24, 2022, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
USC head coach Lincoln Riley, left, has fired defensive coordinator Alex Grinch. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

USC was on the verge of both a Pac-12 title and College Football Playoff berth last year as quarterback Caleb Williams put together a Heisman Trophy-winning season, but the Trojans were routinely held back by a porous defense.

Despite the defense’s poor play, Riley kept Grinch in place as defensive coordinator entering 2023. The Trojans added to their defense through the transfer portal, but the upgrade in talent has not resulted in better defensive play.

Grinch's defenses have been an issue for Riley’s teams dating back to their time together at Oklahoma. Those units have routinely struggled, costing Riley's teams chances to win at the highest level. Nobody doubts Riley's ability to put points on the board, but his teams' defenses have often been among the worst at the Power Five level. This season has been no different.

The Trojans had national championship aspirations entering the season, but those goals have not come to fruition. Following a 6-0 start, the Trojans have lost three of their last four games. They were blasted 48-20 on the road by Notre Dame and lost 34-32 at home to Utah. Last week, USC narrowly avoided an upset with a 50-49 win at Cal to keep its Pac-12 title hopes very much in reach. Those conference championship dreams took a major hit with Saturday night’s loss to Washington.

USC has two regular-season games remaining. Next Saturday, the Trojans will play at No. 6 Oregon before the regular-season finale at home vs. UCLA.

With the move to the Big Ten on the horizon and Williams almost certainly moving on to the NFL, Riley's next defensive coordinator will be a pivotal hire for the future of the USC program.