WSU defensive coordinator Alex Grinch has coached from the press box and the field in his career, but as a career secondary coach, the press box is his native dwelling because of the vantage point it provides.
When Alex Grinch first arrived at Washington State, there was never any question as to where the Cougars’ new defensive coordinator would station himself during game days.
Grinch has coached from the press box and the field in his career, but as a career secondary coach, the press box is his native dwelling because of the vantage point it provides. That bird’s eye view is even more important now that he’s the Cougars’ defensive play caller.
“In the booth, you get the opportunity to see the whole field, whereas on the field, you’re dependent on the guys upstairs to tell you what’s going on,” Grinch said. “It’s certainly a lot easier to see the good and the bad and the breakdowns, and to make corrections from the box as opposed to field level.”
Oregon defensive coordinator Don Pellum takes the opposite view. Pellum spent 2014 on the sideline but started this season in the box for the Ducks. However, as the defense faltered and threatened to sink Oregon’s season, he decided in the week leading up to the Colorado game to return to the sideline where he feels he can be more in touch with the tempo and tenor of his young squad.
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He’ll be on the sideline again when the Ducks take on WSU at Autzen Stadium on Saturday.
Ultimately, both the Ducks and Cougars’ coordinators say it doesn’t matter where a play caller is stationed during a game because you’re always going to need someone up top and someone down below. It’s really just a matter of personal choice, and sometimes, of matching personalities to duties depending on what the team needs most.
Correlation does not always equal causation, but the Oregon defense did much better against the Buffaloes last week with Pellum back on the sidelines than it has in weeks past.
The Ducks’ defense allowed a season-low 308 total yards in their win over Colorado, forced four three-and-outs and two fumbles, and sacked quarterback Sefo Liufau five times – as many sacks as it had produced in the first four games combined.
Oregon defensive end DeForest Buckner thinks having Pellum on the sideline made a difference.
“I like when coach Pellum is on the sidelines with us. He brings an energy that’s kinda rare,” Buckner said. “I feel like the guys respond a lot more when he’s on the sideline. He engages with us. Every time we come off the field, he’s like, ‘What did it look like out there?’ He makes adjustments and he gets us fired up.”
The general consensus is that the game is very different when viewed from the press box.
Grinch likes the box because it also takes some of the emotion out of the game. “From a positive standpoint, it can at times allow you to remain better focused,” Grinch said.
It doesn’t mean it’s quiet, though. Unlike some teams that designate a specific point person to communicate back and forth with the person in the box, the entire Cougars’ defensive staff stays on an open headset channel throughout the game and Grinch encourages his assistants to share all their observations.
So there are times when it reaches a frenzied level, with multiple voices barking through the headset at once.
“To somehow suggest it’s a calm conversation, I’d be lying to you if (anyone) tried to sell you on that,” Grinch said.
There’s an art to effective play calling under duress. It takes a special person to be able to combine information from what he sees on the field, the voices on the headset, charted statistics from the graduate assistants sitting next to him, and formulate a call all in enough time for the players to receive it, transmit it to everyone on the field and get lined up before the ball is snapped.
Against teams like the Ducks that play at a breakneck tempo, Grinch estimates the whole process unfolds within six to eight seconds each time.
Regardless of where they choose to operate – box or field – paralysis by analysis is every play caller’s worst enemy.
“You want to get the call in fast enough so the guys can process it. All play callers are sometimes guilty of taking too long on our end,” Grinch said. “It all goes back to the week of preparation, through video study and all those things.”