Well, there's still no official word, but things are going to be incredibly awkward if LSU doesn't announce Virginia Tech's Jeff Grimes as its next offensive line coach in the next few days. The smoke started to arise earlier this week and billowed even higher on Wednesday from outlets in both Louisiana and Virginia, even on assistant coach Shane (son of Frank) Beamer's twitter.
UPDATE 1/21: LSU has finally confirmed the hire.
So, who is this guy?
Grimes, 45, just wrapped up his first season and his 14th in college football. He's a Texas native, and prior to coming east for the Auburn job and his stint at Tech, had mostly worked at western schools like Arizona State, BYU and Colorado. He largely made his bones on the Plains as a member of Gene Chizik's staff. Obviously, that had some highs -- good/excellent lines in 2009/10 that were mostly inherited veterans -- and the lows of 2011/12, which ultimately cost Chizik his job. Following that, he was hired on in Blacksburg, along with offensive coordinator (and noted serial killer of college offenses) Scot Loeffler.
Overall, Grimes' reputation mostly centers on his recruiting. Per his Rivals.com profile, Grimes is credited with one five-star and some 16 four-star recruits in the last 10 years, including two during his stint at Colorado. He recruited all five starters, along with several backups, of Auburn's outstanding 2013 offensive line, and the job he did there attracted Mack Brown's interest in 2010 (Grimes turned down a reportedly lucrative offer to stay at Auburn).
Grimes has helped developed a number of highly-rated players. Twelve of his former players went on to play professionally in the National Football League including Andrew Carnahan, Edwin Harrison, Matt Hill, Drew Hodgdon, Levi Jones (the 10th overall pick of the 2002 draft), Eddie Keele, Kyle Kosier, Jake Kuresa, Scott Peters, Tyler Polumbus, Travis Scott and Scott Young. Nine of them were awarded All-Conference honors including Carnahan, Hodgdon, Jones, Kosier, Peters, Scott, Kuresa, Young and Hill.
Twelve players in 12 years doesn't exactly inspire confidence, although he does get some degree of credit for All-American and projected first-rounder Greg Robinson, whom he recruited and coached for two out of his three seasons on the Plains.
At first glance, I can't claim to know a lot about Grimes. I was notably in the tank for hiring Bob Bostad, so it's kind of hard for me to call this a home run. So I decided to seek out some outside opinions, and learn more about the guy.
Coach Grimes is an excellent hire for LSU. Virginia Tech's offensive lines have always played with toughness, and Grimes is a very good recruiter for an offensive line coach -- a position not necessarily renowned for recruiting.
-- Bud Elliot, SB Nation Recruiting
And while I'm somewhat loathed towards fan opinion on outgoing coaches (remember how Baltimore panned Cam Cameron on his way out of town?), Virginia Tech fans are notably upset about this development.
Upset doesn't quite cover it, actually.
And I'd be remiss if I didn't say, FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK.— THE KEY PLAY (@thekeyplay) January 15, 2014
Going to eat 4 jumbo eggs and half of a sausage log.— THE KEY PLAY (@thekeyplay) January 15, 2014
How is everyone else handling the Grimes to LSU news? This is my coping mechanism: http://t.co/Lq5zyREBqh.— THE KEY PLAY (@thekeyplay) January 15, 2014
Obviously, his time in Blacksburg was short-lived (THANKS A LOT), but he was what you wanted in an offensive line coach. He put the fire back in the line and though the sample size was limited, his line seemed better than that of Tech lines of the past. We had been plagued in the past by poor pass blocking, but Grimes seemed to keep Logan Thomas upright more often than not. The running game was a bit different, but a good portion of that blame could be placed on an inexperienced backfield. There were moments of brilliance from the offensive line, opening huge holes and then there were times that linemen looked lost. I think given a longer tenure, his line could have been exceptional all the way around. The biggest thing that Tech fans were excited about was the recruiting that he did. He had pulled in five very good offensive line recruits and created excitement around that again. Given the talent available to him already at LSU and the recruits he can pull, I think LSU fans should be very pleased.
It's worth noting that there have been multiple tweets from some very upset Hokie offensive line recruits, as well.
From the Auburn perspective:
It's hard to tell just how good of a hire Jeff Grimes is. On one hand, he's a fantastic recruiter and should bring some serious talent to the LSU's offensive line. That's what he did at Auburn. On the other hand, that talent didn't really thrive under his tutelage while he was with the orange-and-blue Tigers from 2009 to '12.
Auburn recruited 11 offensive linemen rated as four- or five-stars while Grimes was on staff, and every starter on the impressive 2013 offensive line came on board under the coach. But, aside from 2010, Auburn's O-line stats from 2009-12 weren't all that impressive. In 2011 and 2012, the Tigers ranked 10th and 14th, respectively in the SEC in sacks allowed per game. They were fifth and 11th, respectively, in yards per rush. During the Gene Chizik era, developing talent -- or the lack of developing talent -- was a major issue, and the line wasn't really an exception.
Although, it's hard to determine how much blame Grimes should get for the struggles, and how much should be assigned to Chizik for running the program into the ground. Strength and conditioning became a joke. At his pro day workout before the 2013 NFL Draft, former Tigers lineman John Sullen managed just three reps at 225 on the bench press, which is worse than most kickers and punters. So if the linemen weren't strong enough to compete because the head coach didn't instill a quality strength program, that's hard to pin on the O-line coach.
-- Chris Fuhrmeister, College and Magnolia
The Key Play's resident offensive line guru, french60wasp, also did a series of very extensive breakdowns of Tech's games this season, and offered some very (very) detailed thoughts:
To answer how Grimes did, it is important to look at the state of the program as Grimes entered the job. Based on my film review, the Virginia Tech offensive line is significantly better today than the offensive line that paved the way for David Wilson's record-setting rushing season in 2011. That grouping included three players who ultimately made NFL rosters. Wilson's fantastic athleticism generated yardage between the 20s, but that group's lack of fundamental precision was exposed as the offense struggled in short-yardage and goal-line situations without the trickery of the inverted veer. The Hokies inability to run the ball against Michigan exposed the poor fundamentals of the Curt Newsome-lead group time and time again. Then, in 2012 without the presence of an elite running back, the poor offensive line fundamentals were showcased for the entire world to see.
Let's take a look at a variation of a goal line power zone play from the 2012 Sugar Bowl versus a similar play in the 2013 Sun Bowl. Here, we have the Hokies running an outside zone against Michigan. Take special note of right guard Jaymes Brooks.
Brooks has to reach block the three-technique defensive tackle for Michigan (three technique meaning that the defensive tackle is aligned on the outside shoulder of the guard.) Brooks has to take a flat step to the right, and gain leverage on the outside of the tackle and turn his pads. Brooks takes a solid first step, but fails to finish the block by getting his head on the right side of the tackle, effectively sealing him inside. Then, Brooks' feet go dead, and the defensive tackle crosses his face and closes off the cutback lane for David Wilson. Eric Martin also gets blown up, and it wastes a stellar reach block by Blake DeChristopher and solid back side scoops by Andrew Miller, Greg Nosal and Andrew Lainer. Two guys who fail to execute solid fundamental blocks ruin any chance of success for the play. This was a common theme every year that Curt Newsome was the coach. There was no consistency and poor fundamentals, and it seemed like at least one guy on every play was busting an assignment.
It is overly simplistic to say that one play defines a season, but I think you can. Here is the Hokies lone touchdown in the Sun Bowl, which is a zone run similar to the Wilson disaster above.
As this is inside zone, the goal is to successfully reach an interior defender, and then influence an edge defender to stretch wide to keep contain. That creates an ally on the interior where the back can explode through the gap. Here, right guard Andrew Miller has the difficult assignment of reaching the three-technique defensive tackle, in this case five-star super freshman Eddie Vanderdoes. Laurence Gibson has to turn the outside linebacker to the outside, and David Wang has to reach the nose tackle (who is eagled to the strong side). Derrick Hopkins and Sam Rogers will lead through the bubble that should form if Miller and Gibson execute their blocks and the nose doesn't cross Wang's face to cut the play off in the backfield.
Notice the uniformity of each lineman's feet in the picture. Each player has opened their hips and taken a perfect zone step to their right. The symmetry is beautiful. Wang has successfully beaten the nose tackle to the play side gap and has his head on the outside. Miller has gained outside leverage on Vanderdoes and has sealed him to the inside. Gibson didn't influence the outside linebacker, so he has driven him to the outside. Both Hopkins and Rogers are perfectly aligned to create a wedge in the resulting lane. Now, watch the play again and focus on Wang, Gibson, and Miller's footwork. Every player's feet are moving and stay engaged with their blocks. Coleman slips into the end zone for perhaps the easiest touchdown he has ever scored.
It is easy to single out one play from two different years, but the film is indicative that Grimes did a stellar job. The Hokies offensive line had very strong games against the Alabama, UCLA, and Miami fronts, which were perhaps the most talented groups they played against. Guys consistently executed blocks, featured the correct aiming points, and stayed engaged with their defenders until the whistle blew. When the offensive line had challenges, it was usually against junk defenses with three man fronts that did a great deal of stunting and gap penetration. I think that those teams exposed some of the Hokies lack of physical ability with their quickness and aggressiveness. In the case of Aaron Donald at Pitt, he was just a damn good football player and sometimes great beats decent.
Based on what I have seen, Grimes is a tremendous teacher of the position. His unit this season was a solid fundamentally as any Hokie team I have seen since around 2003. The entire OL was devoid of athleticism, but he put together a solid group of three star linemen from New Jersey, Ohio, and Pennsylvania that fit a zone-blocking archetype (tall, lengthy, athletic, and comfortable reach and scoop blocking and getting to the second level.) He will go where the guys he likes are to recruit them, versus recruiting in an area where your school has more regional appeal. Virginia has not been a great state for producing depth of quality offensive line prospects, and Grimes was the first coach to recognize that and go actively recruit kids in other areas.
So, with all this good stuff, why was the Hokie offense bad? First, the skill position players who were charged with blocking were young, incredibly inexperienced, and in the case of the tight end position, Kalvin Cline (true freshman) had just started playing football a couple of years ago and really had not learned how to block. The receiver position didn't have gamebreakers, so corners would man up and the safeties would be flying to the line of scrimmage with no worry about being beaten deep. Against Duke and their very good safety group, you would watch as all five linemen would win their individual battle on the line of scrimmage, but a safety or the back side linebacker would fly in and make the play. The Hokie receivers were not good enough to make them pay for being so aggressive. Offensively, this may have been the least talented Hokie offense I have seen since 1997. And, even with those problems, the Hokies most often won the time of possession battle and sustained drives, which complimented the defense perfectly.
So, there you have it folks. Grimes brings a very strong reputation, and a seemingly dynamic recruiting style to Baton Rouge. His Texas ties could certainly come in handy (if the Aggies are determined to increase their presence in Louisiana, it's not a bad idea to take the fight to their backyard either). He seems to fit the profile of a strong hire.