Jeff Grimes’ eyes narrowed and his brow creased, adding — just in case his soft Texas drawl left any erroneous doubt — even more to the urgency and fervency of the words tumbling out of his mouth.
He said: “I want guys who can impose their will on others. I tell guys to finish a block, even if a defender is out of a play. I want my offensive lineman to put him on the ground, and have all 300 pounds land on him, just so he knows how that feels. I’m not talking about diving at a guy’s knees. I’m talking about physical aggression.”
By Grimes’ way of thinking, the end justifies the means, and the mean.
He continued: “If we block well, our quarterbacks will complete passes, our running backs will find holes. If we do a good job, we’ll win most of our games. What we’re asking and telling these guys is, you won’t be on TV, you won’t make headlines, but when you limp off the field into the locker room together after a game, you can look at each other and have a great sense of pride and accomplishment.
“I have a standard that I will not change. Everyone stays tough, everyone plays hard on every play. That’s what I ask. That’s what I want.”
Grimes uttered those sentences more than 13 years ago, when he was the newly named offensive line coach at BYU. This week, he was hired as the Cougars’ new offensive coordinator, replacing another coach with a soft Lone-star drawl, a guy who had twice the success Grimes had as a player, but considerably less success and experience as a coach.
Before and since his first run in Provo, the big Texan with Jesus as the centerpiece of his life — he’s Baptist — and a slew of hard-mugged mentors as his football exemplars, his personal philosophy toward the game he’s made his profession hasn’t changed at all, just like he said it wouldn’t all those seasons ago.
Evolve a bit, yes. Change, no. Not when he coached at places such as Auburn and Virginia Tech and Texas A&M and Boise State and Arizona State and LSU and BYU, and now, BYU again.
And just like that, a program in desperate need of rejuvenation and inspiration, motivation and innovation will get it in the large form and frame of a man who was never all that great as a player — he had a couple shots with pro teams, and fell short — but who learned to earn whatever he gained through working hard and working smart and working in good faith.
The first time I ever heard the words family, faith, football crammed into the same sentence, the same breath, was during a long interview with Grimes in 2004. He termed them, “The Three F’s.” And the first two in no way would ever rob the last one. He never wanted anyone on or around a field to confuse faith for meekness or weakness.
It was during his high school days in Garland, a town outside of Dallas, when that mixture was made firm, like cement hardening in the hot Texas sun. During his junior year, one day at practice, he was feeling sick, sweating and heaving and puking under the duress of extreme effort. In that moment, he asked himself: “Why am I doing this? It’s not fun. Why?”
That’s when a coach walked up to him, blurring the lines between public education and private beliefs, and said: “When Jesus walked on this earth for 33 years, he never had an easy day.”
Grimes said that notion changed his outlook.
“It set the tone for the rest of my life,” he said then. “If I had quit, I wouldn’t be who I am or where I am. I wouldn’t have learned all the things that football teaches — working through challenges, toughness, and character. I’m glad I stayed.”
And because he stayed, he learned the game from his offensive line coach at UTEP, a fellow by the name of Andy Reid, a BYU grad who now is the coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, and from others, such as Ken Hatfield and R.C. Slocum and Mike Sherman and Dirk Koetter, among others.
During that conversation back in the day, Grimes displayed his grasp of the technical side of offensive football, spending half an hour on the nuances of blocking alone, mentioning how counter-intuitive some of it is, then moving on to some of his favorite plays in specific situations, demonstrating what years of studying and playing and walking the sidelines had taught him.
But what stood out the most about Grimes, alongside his balanced focus on life itself, was his mental approach to the physical aspects of football, how he wanted his players to meet the brutal challenges of the game with minds that were set on conquering them.
“These guys have to want to be the best offensive line in the country,” he said. “They have to be tough, physical, hard-working, blue-collar, the kind of guys who enjoy getting dirty and bloodied, who can fight in a phone booth for three or four hours. That’s not for everyone. You have to have a mental toughness that will overcome the defense.”
If BYU’s offense reflects the old coach/new coordinator’s philosophical approach, nobody will see the sometimes-soft, often-mismatched-and-hapless play that plagued the Cougars this past season.
Grimes said back then his standard will not change.
Now we’ll find out if his new players’ standard will.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.