Jeff Grimes describes this past season as one of the more “fulfilling” in 25 years of coaching.
The LSU offensive line coach started two true freshmen for most of the season, played without left tackle KJ Malone the last six games and lost potential All-SEC right guard Maea Teuhema before the season even began.
Naturally, his unit looked better in Game 12 than it did, say, in Game 3. Much of that is because of the grown from rookies Ed Ingram and Saahdiq Charles. The season-long praise of the two freshmen is real, Grimes said. They're good.
“When I watch some of (our play) early in the season, I’m going, ‘Man … we weren’t necessarily a group that you would say has it all together,’” Grimes said Friday morning during an interview with The Advocate.
“That’s going to be the case when you’re playing true freshmen. I tell you – I’ve coached true freshmen everywhere I’ve been. I’ve coached eight freshman All-Americans before this year and I’ve never had two any better than these two we’ve played with this year. I just think Ed and Saahdiq are phenomenal players, great young men. How far they came is a big reason that we’re in the position to play in this bowl game and have a chance to win 10 games this year.”
Grimes spoke to a reporter while bustling through the Atlanta airport, bound for Utah. BYU is holding a news conference Saturday morning to introduce him as its new offensive coordinator. Grimes confirmed that he’ll remain with LSU through the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1 against Notre Dame.
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He called the decision to end his four-year tenure in Baton Rouge “hard” and described his meeting with offensive linemen Thursday as “emotional.” He left because the timing was “right,” he said, for his family and for BYU, and his wishes to be a coordinator superseded any offer from LSU to boost his contract.
In a 20-minute interview, Grimes also detailed the timeline of landing the job and how he spent an “unbelievable amount of time and energy” reassuring offensive line prospects committed to the Tigers that the right place for them is still Baton Rouge.
He spoke about his plans for his offense at BYU and his ability as a play-caller. He touched on LSU’s past offensive line production and, he says, its bright future.
“The real pleasure I have leaving here is I feel like I’m leaving the room in a lot better place," Grimes said. "This group, combined with the recruits that are coming in, these guys got a chance to be phenomenal offensive line moving forward and I look forward to watching them.”
How did this thing play out?
Well, this was not a job that I pursued quite honestly. I didn’t have to ask anybody to make a call for me or anything. There were just so many people that I know in and around the program that immediately went to work behind the scenes for me, recommended me for the job. It gained a little bit of steam.
I know (BYU head coach) Kalani (Sitake) a little bit, but I don’t know him well, but I know a bunch of people who do know him well. I think what happened is there were a bunch of people who talked to him about me. That started soon after he made the change there (firing OC Ty Detmer), but I didn’t talk to Kalani for a while.
I’m old school in my approach: I’m never going to talk to anybody until they’re going to talk to my boss. I told the people who reached out to me that Kalani needed to do that, and I’m sure he would have anyway. It took a couple of days just to get the two of them to hook up, and I was going different places recruiting and so was he. That took a couple more days. Took a little while before we talked. Maybe we started talking a week ago or something like that. Can’t remember exactly when.
He and I had a couple of conversations about the job – what he was looking for, why he felt like this thing could work there and what he thinks it’s going to take in this position to help the program move forward.
I talked with Tom Holmoe, the BYU AD who I’ve known. He was there when I was there (as line coach in 2004-06). He and I stayed in touch. That was another good inside source that I had that you normally don’t have when you’re not applying for a head coaching job. I talked to a lot, a lot of people – probably more people than I ever have about taking a job before I did. Just a ton of guys that are on the staff, a lot of guys who have been on the staff and that are not now and in the community, former players, guys that I know and trust. I was able to get all the information that I needed to to get to the point where I thought it would be a good deal for me. The last couple of days were your typical negotiation sort of thing.
How difficult was this decision for you?
It was really hard. Any time you make a move, it’s difficult – not because of leaving a place, but because of people and relationships. For me first, it’s the players, the guys who have been willing to do whatever I’ve asked them to do and allow me to push them beyond what they thought their limits were going to be.
The players joke with me all the time – my wife does too, incidentally – about being a guy that’s seldom satisfied. I seldom think it’s quite good enough. But they’ve been completely willing to allow me to do that. I just have such a close relationship with all the guys in that room. Certainly, I’m to the point now, after this amount of time, where really all of them but KJ (Malone) were guys I was involved with their recruitment.
Now, Will (Clapp) and Garrett (Brumfield) were already committed when I came, but, still, I’ve been with those guys for four years, through their redshirt years and through the early years of Will struggling to learn how to play but having a lot of success as a young guy and Garrett struggling not playing as much as he would like to but just remaining faithful and being a great teammate and working hard and developing and now having his opportunity and having a great year.
Just everybody all along the way, all those guys in that room I feel a great amount of loyalty to them. When I told them, it was hard. And the staff. Coach O has been great to me. He gave me the opportunity to stay here when he didn’t have to and actually made it an even better situation for me. The people we know in our community and church and neighborhood, those are the reasons that it’s hard to say good-bye to some place.
How emotional was it to tell your O-line room and when did you do it?
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to tell them. They found out the night before. It was supposed to come out (Thursday). That was a little sticky. Some guys felt like they should have heard it from me first and they should have. It just doesn’t always happen that way nowadays. The first thing I did was apologize to them and told them that wasn’t the way it was supposed to go down. Coach O did the same thing. He met with the whole team and told them exactly how things took place, that he didn’t intend for it to go that way.
It was emotional. That was yesterday (Thursday).
What do you do in a situation like this where you’re responsible for several offensive line commitments less than a week before the early signing period?
The first thing I did was I got (LSU's new line coach) (James) Cregg’s number and sent him a message and told him he was going to owe me a little cut of his salary when he got here. Nah, I didn’t do that.
It is a funny deal. They found out before I had an opportunity to tell them. Again, you’d like for them to hear it from you first. I’ve had conversations with all of them. It’s weird because, although I’m leaving, I’ve spent an unbelievable amount of time and energy to get them to LSU. I want them to be here. I believe this is the right place for them. I don’t want them to have any second thoughts because I’m leaving. I’ve talked to all of them about the fact that, even though I have a very strong relationship with each of them, that’s not the only reason they’re coming to LSU.
If you’re a guy who cares about people then you want to kind of see the job through. I’ve tried to help with that process as much as I can by having contact with them and their parents.
Cameron Wire plans to give his mother, Kecia, a special Christmas gift this year.
What will your approach be as a play-caller and running an offense?
I would say in terms of the play-calling stuff... I don’t want to minimize that responsibility at all because I recognize it’s a big deal and there are a lot of pressure calls made, but I’ve always believed a lot of the calls are made on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday throughout the week as you’re game-planning.
I’ve been in a lot of situations where it’s fourth-and-1 and somebody says, ‘Hey, Grimey, what do you want here?’ That’s as big of a call as there is anywhere in the game. If I can make a call in that situation with a conference championship or national championship at stake, I feel like I can make any call. But I do know there will be greater responsibility and a different role in doing that full time. I think I’ll be the same guy I am right now, which is a guy that believes in developing the culture and mindset of the group first. My first order of business will be to develop an offense that’s tough, hard-working and completely committed to one another. I believe if you have guys that are passionate about the game then they’ll do all the things necessary to be successful. If they love each other, they’re going to play hard, lift hard and study their game plan and they’re going to be ready when the time is ready for them to go.
You’ve been a part of several different offenses. What will Jeff Grimes’ offense be like at BYU?
Well, I think No. 1, you’ve got to fit an offense to the personnel you have. That sounds like you’re skating the answer but I’m really not. That’s one of the things we did a good job of when I was (at BYU) before and have been able to do other places I’ve been. That’s one of my strengths – look at the skill set you have and figure out a way to maximize your assets and minimize your liabilities. I believe in having balance, and I think you can have balance in a lot of different ways.
Won a national championship at Auburn as part of a staff that ran a spread offense. I’ve been a part of an offense here and at other places where we were under center more and huddled. The method you take, I don’t think, is as important as having the right culture and then fitting your style to the skill set that you have and maximizing the players that you have.
We’ll definitely run the football. Anybody that knows me knows you can never hand it off to a good running back too many times. I believe in play-action. I think in college football nowadays, you have to have big plays. If you don’t have explosive plays, it’s very difficult to score enough points to win games. At the same time, I think I’ve learned enough about the passing game – over 25 years of working with a lot of really good offensive coaches and a lot of systems – that we’ll be able to balance that out for us.
We’re not going to try to be Georgia Tech or any other team that’s just going to run the football because I’m an O-line guy. We’ll have balance in run and pass in all situations regardless of what personnel is on the field, whether we huddled or didn’t huddle or whether we’re under center or in the (shotgun). I see us being a blend of all those things.
I know LSU attempted to keep you. What ultimately were the reasons you decided to leave?
Really three things. One, timing was right for me and my family. My oldest daughter is a senior. We’ve allowed her to have the opportunity to go to the same high school all four years. That was something I honestly didn’t necessarily think would happen. It’s only the second time I’ve been at a place this long. I think the timing is just right for my wife and myself as well.
I think the place that they’re in right now… the timing at BYU is right. I think they need someone with a certain skill set. I think I’ve got those skills that can help them take the next step. I think the timing was right for me and my family and the timing was right for them as well.
And, honestly, just a chance to be a coordinator. I’ve had a couple of opportunities to do that at other places in the past, but at that time either the timing wasn’t right or may not have been a deal where I would really do the thing myself.
You lost a potential All-SEC right guard before fall camp (Maea Teuhema), lost your starting left tackle midway through the season and played two true freshmen for half of the year. How do you describe LSU’s offensive line this season given all the adversity?
Fulfilling, As much as any I’ve been a part of, it’s been fulfilling. As much as any year I’ve been a part of, all the adversity and the challenges, that’s what makes this thing worth doing. It’s the challenge and ability then to overcome something, whether you’re talking about us as a team losing the games early or whether you’re talking about being at the Swamp and having three true freshmen in the game for most of the game, having different guys in and out throughout the season… to do all of that and feel like at the end of the year, we did good, accomplished something. I feel like as a line, we played well, did our part, particularly towards the latter half of the year.
I went back on Tuesday and watched some of the plays, the cut-ups. We took three plays and said, ‘Let’s look at what we did on these plays.' Had some extra time with bowl practice. We looked at those as a group. As I looked back at it, I was amazed how much these guys have improved. When I watch some of it early in the season, I’m going, ‘Man … we weren’t necessarily a group that you would say has it all together.’
That’s going to be the case when you’re playing true freshmen. I tell you – I’ve coached true freshmen everywhere I’ve been. I’ve coached eight freshman All-Americans before this year and I’ve never had two any better than these two we’ve played with this year. I just think Ed and Saahdiq are phenomenal players, great young men. How far they came is a big reason that we’re in the position to play in this bowl game and have a chance to win 10 games this year.
I’ll also credit Will, Toby (Weathersby), Garrett, KJ for providing leadership and stability throughout the whole year and helping those young guys come along. You started this conversation by saying, ‘You’ve been here four years and how long that seems.’ In a way, it does, but in a way it seems like it’s been shorter for me.
The real pleasure I have leaving here is I feel like I’m leaving the room in a lot better place. This group, combined with the recruits that are coming in, these guys got a chance to be phenomenal offensive line moving forward and I look forward to watching them.