In January of 2014, Jeffrey Todd Grantham was introduced as the new defensive coordinator of the Louisville Cardinals. He left the University of Georgia, where he had held the same position for the previous four years. Grantham brought with him plenty of experience having coached for four NFL teams ( Cowboys, Browns, Colts and Texans) and three great college programs (Michigan State, Virginia Tech and Georgia).
He also brought with him the 3-4 defense that works so well in the NFL. Based on his experience and the promise of an upgrade on defense, Louisville gave him an amazing 1 million dollars a year for 5 years guaranteed.
That price seemed a bit high but most of us didn’t really mind overpaying for an upper level SEC coordinator with NFL experience. A combination of a high-priced defensive coordinator, the return of the offensive genius, Bobby Petrino and the excitement of joining the Atlantic Coast Conference, had expectations at an all time high. It was the perfect combination of events to help continue the upward trajectory of the program after the bitter-sweet departure of one Teddy Bridgewater.
Even though we had on blinders and could only see positive things about the Grantham hiring, we all heard the rejoicing of the Georgia faithful about his decision to leave the Bulldog family. We heard it loud and clear because they were not just whispering but rather singing from the mountaintops.
Grantham’s first two years at Georgia were great. In fact, in the 2011 SEC championship game, Georgia did not give up a first down the whole first half to LSU, who was the #1 team in the country at that time. However, they gave up 35 points in the second half. That might have been the point where Georgia fans starting having their doubts about Grantham. Despite starting 2012 with 5 or 6 NFL caliber players on defense, the fans doubts were quickly affirmed and reaffirmed in 2013. Under Grantham, Georgia’s total defensive rankings went from 5th in 2011, to 32nd in 2012, to 45th in 2013.
Louisville accepted Grantham with open arms and anxiously awaited his 3-4 aggressive style defense that is predicated on forcing turnovers. The defensive roster was loaded with players Charlie Strong had left behind. Lorenzo Mauldin was already a great player but he really thrived under the new defensive scheme. Many others did too. Six of those guys on defense were selected in the 2015 NFL draft (Mount, Mauldin, Dubose, Floyd, Gaines, Holliman and Sample). During Grantham’s first season the Cardinals were sixth nationally in total defense, allowing 308.5 yards per game. All was well.
In late January of 2015, Grantham turned down an offer from the NFL’s Oakland Raiders to stay as defensive coordinator at Louisville. Grantham received a raise for his loyalty and would make $1.3 million in salary over the final three years of his contract. That deal made Grantham the fourth-highest-paid public university assistant coach in college football.
In May of 2015, Grantham started off year number two with a bang when he accidentally tweeted out a ranked list of the state of Georgia’s top prospects from the 2016 and 2017 classes. He was heavily criticized by the Georgia fan base because basically that’s all they could mock him for after such a great first year at Louisville.
Nick Saban, who happened to be in Louisville accepting an award, spoke with Gentry Estes of the Courier-Journal about Grantham who coached the defensive line for Saban’s teams at Michigan State. “I know that people in Georgia criticized him a little bit,” Saban said, “but to play good defense you have to have really good players, and they really have to buy in and have the discipline to execute the scheme. Georgia always has good players, but I just think Todd is a really, really good coach. I thought he did a great job at Louisville here last year with the team that they had and had a lot of success. He’s a very innovative guy, but he’s a fundamental teacher and does a good job with players.”
Grantham and Louisville finished year two ranked 18th nationally in total defense. A drop of 12 spots from year one.
Prior to the 2016 season, Louisville lost two defensive assistants. Cornerbacks coach Terell Buckley and safeties coach Greg Brown. Brown wasn’t happy with Louisville saying the defense at Louisville under Bobby Petrino was like a “neglected stepchild.” Grantham spoke out and reassured everyone that the defense was well taken care of. We all believed him because we saw the roster of talent on the defensive side of the ball.
Remember what Nick Saban said, “but to play good defense you have to have really good players.” Well, we had really good players. It’s that circular argument that good coaches need good players and good players need good coaches. I don’t buy into that because a good coach can make a good player great and an average player good. Saban also said “they really have to buy in and have the discipline to execute the scheme.” To me, that’s what makes a great coach and that’s where Grantham failed. The lack of discipline to follow the scheme that they are supposed to trust, out of position or blown coverages, stupid penalties, trying to strip the ball instead of making a proper technique tackle are all a reflection of the defensive coordinator.
In my opinion, Louisville had plenty of talent on defense but they were not put in position to make the plays. The 3-4 defense is not meant for college kids unless they all posses NFL talent. This years defense would have been a lot worse if it were not for Josh Harvey-Clemons. He was allowed to move freely around the secondary and made some big plays. His best 3 games statistically were vs. Florida State, Marshall and Clemson. He was hurt and didn’t play vs Houston. He was hurt and played sparingly vs Kentucky and didn’t play in the bowl game vs LSU. I’m not blaming those last 3 losses all on the defense but the impact of losing JHC was noticeable. He was a mask for the inadequacies of Grantham’s coaching. The offensive line was a major factor in those 3 games as well but the UK loss was my final straw with Grantham. The scouting report on UK’s quarterback, Stevie Johnson, was that he throws a great deep ball and that’s about it. On UK’s first offensive play he throws a deep ball for a touchdown. After the game Petrino said safety, Dee Smith, was out of position on that play. How on earth is any defender not lined up correctly on the first play of the game? That’s on the Grantham. All throughout the game the defense was looking over to the sideline asking where to line up, jumping around pre-snap and looking thoroughly confused. There is absolutely no excuse for any member of the defense to not know where to line up or how to execute a play in the last game of the regular season. It’s just a product of poor coaching and proving Grantham was not worth his 1.3 million dollar salary.
Duke ran the same 3 plays all game long and the defense never adjusted to stop them. It seemed that in every game we blitzed on 3rd down and to make matters worse it appeared to be the exact same blitz every time. In that 3-4 defense, ball carriers were not touched until 2 or 3 yards past the line of scrimmage but because the defenders were trying to strip the ball instead of tackle the runner, the running back gained 6 or 7 yards. When the defense actually penetrated the offensive line and got into the backfield, the QB or running back was first hit behind the line of scrimmage but again poor tackling turned a potential loss into a gain for the other team. That happened way too many times.
Louisville finished Grantham’s third and final season at Louisville with the 14th ranked defense. That doesn’t sound too bad but just think what could have been with all that talent. Too many missed opportunities, lack of discipline and the frustration of having the talent of a top 5 defense was what put an end to the Grantham Era.
I say thank you Mr. Grantham for your service and Good Bye.
Peter Sirmon, you sir are up. Let’s do this!
As Always. GO CARDS!