As soon as USC announced the stunning move Sunday to bring the 38-year-old coach west, Oklahoma began hemorrhaging recruits. Assistant coaches came next.
Riley started his first USC coaching staff by pulling from his former staff at Oklahoma, inviting two assistants, the head strength coach and the director of football operations with him to his introductory press conference Monday at the Coliseum.
“These guys got on a plane with me this morning, without a contract, without anything,” Riley said. “They have been instrumental in our success at Oklahoma and I think it says a lot that they wanted to be here with you, with all of us and I can’t imagine doing it with any other guys.”
Here’s a look at who is joining the coach in Los Angeles:
Alex Grinch, defensive coordinator
Grinch has worked in Norman for the last two seasons as the defensive coordinator and safeties coach.
The 41-year-old assistant has Pac-12 experience from Washington State, where he got his first coordinator job in 2015 under Mike Leach. His motto was “Speed D,” a style characterized by forcing turnovers, playing aggressively and, as the name suggests, emphasizing speed. With Grinch, the Cougars went from three wins in 2014 to nine in 2015 as the defense improved from 99th nationally in yards allowed to 16th. The Cougars went to three consecutive bowl games for the first time since 2001-03.
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After a one-year stint at Ohio State, where he helped the Buckeyes to a Rose Bowl title in 2018, Grinch joined Riley in Norman, where Oklahoma led the Big 12 in yards given up per game in conference play in 2019. Last year the Sooners ranked third nationally in interceptions.
Grinch has his work cut out for him with USC’s defense. The Trojans, under second-year coordinator Todd Orlando, are on pace to allow program worsts in points (32.5) and yards (422.1) per game.
Dennis Simmons, outside wide receivers
Simmons has deep connections with Riley that go back to their days under Leach at Texas Tech, where they both coached receivers. It was Riley’s first full-time assistant job. They worked together again at East Carolina from 2010-11 when Riley was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach and Simmons coached receivers.
Prior to joining Oklahoma’s staff in 2015, Simmons coached receivers under Leach at Washington State for three years. He continued in the position with the Sooners, focusing on outside receivers, and added the titles of associate head coach (2019) and assistant head coach/passing game coordinator (2021).
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Simmons has coached two Biletnikoff Award winners with Texas Tech’s Michael Crabtree and Oklahoma’s Dede Westbrook and mentored current NFL receivers Marquise Brown and CeeDee Lamb.
Bennie Wylie, director of sports performance
Strength and conditioning coaches are known to have a bigger impact on a football program’s culture than almost any staff member besides the coach. No wonder Wylie made the cut for Sunday’s private plane to L.A.
The former Sam Houston State running back was the head strength and conditioning coach for Leach at Texas Tech from 2003-09, which spanned Riley’s entire coaching tenure with the program. Wylie also led the strength programs at Tennessee in 2010 and Texas under Mack Brown from 2011-13. He joined Oklahoma in 2018 after working at a private fitness center in Texas and providing training to U.S. military.
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Clarke Stroud, director of football operations
The other staff members following Riley have longtime relationships with the coach or, at least in Grinch’s case, a history with Riley’s mentor, Leach. Stroud doesn’t necessarily fit that category.
The director of football operations was the fourth Oklahoma staffer on the plane Sunday and it marks the end of a long career there. Stroud’s experience went beyond the athletic department. Since joining the university in 1992, he worked as the assistant director of housing and food services, director of the Oklahoma Memorial Union and was the vice president for student affairs and dean of students for nearly two decades. He took over the day-to-day operations of the football program in 2018.