Oakland Raiders DC Search: Who is Todd Grantham?


Aug 1, 2013; Athens, GA, USA; Georgia Bulldogs defensive coordinator Todd Grantham reacts during practice at the University of Georgia. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The Raiders mystery college candidate for the Defensive Coordinator appeared to have been revealed yesterday when reports surfaced that Todd Grantham was interviewed for the job, as first reported for JBB by Editor-in-Chief Chase Ruttig. While many – including this author – believed that the candidate that made the most sense was Notre Dame’s Brian VanGorder – who had formerly worked for Jack Del Rio in Jacksonville – it appears Del Rio had his sights set on Grantham, who is currently the defensive coordinator at Louisville.

Grantham’s 25 year coaching career includes nine years of NFL experience, all coming between 1999 and 2007 with three different teams. He has generally been a defensive line coach in his career, although he spent three years as an NFL defensive coordinator and now has spent five years as a DC at the college level. He came up as a young assistant coach under Frank Beamer at Virginia Tech, where he spent six years working with defensive linemen. During Grantham’s tenure on Beamer’s staff, the Hokies run defense was spectacular, only surrendering more than four yards per carry once in those six years.

In 1995 the Hokies allowed a spectacular two yards per carry for the entire season. Despite this impressive run, only one defensive lineman who Grantham coached at Virginia Tech was ever drafted into the NFL: tackle J.C. Price, a 3rd round pick of the Panthers in 1996 who did not record a single snap in a regular-season NFL game.

From 1997 through 1998 Grantham worked on Nick Saban’s staff at Michigan State, again as a defensive line coach, where he worked with 1999 27th overall pick Dimitrius Underwood as well as 2000 late-round pick Robaire Smith. In 1999, Grantham got his first NFL job working with the defensive line of the Indianapolis Colts under Jim Mora the elder and Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio.

The Colts’ defensive line accounted for 26 of the teams’ 41 quarterback sacks in 1999 but the defense held opponents to 4.2 yards per carry in the run game, 26th in the league. Defensive end Chad Bratzke had his career high in sacks that year with 12. In 2000, Grantham’s d-line unit contributed 23 sacks but the defense surrendered a 4.3 yard per carry rushing average. In 2001, the unit contributed 26.5 sacks, but the run defense was porous, surrendering 4.6 yards per carry by opponents. The team went 6-10 that year, and Jim Mora and his staff were let go.

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Grantham followed Fangio to Houston, where they assumed their same roles under head coach Dom Capers and worked his 3-4 defensive system. Defensive end Gary Walker had a Pro Bowl season under Grantham that year, his second in a row, as he recorded 6.5 sacks and 36 tackles. Nose tackle Seth Payne recorded a respectable 54 tackles as well, a big number for an interior defensive lineman. Grantham’s unit regressed in 2003 however, as the team allowed 4.4 yards per carry by opponents and his unit only accounted for 3.5 sacks. The unit did not improve that much in 2004, yet somehow Grantham was hired by Romeo Crennel to be his first defensive coordinator in Cleveland.

Grantham’s Cleveland defenses, which were really Crennel’s defenses, went from mediocre to flat out bad in his three year tenure with the Browns. The defense finished a respectable 16th in the league in 2005, but finished 30th against the rush while 4th against the pass. While the pass defense appeared solid on paper, the main reason for their success was that opposing teams could run at will, and ran nearly 33 times per game against the Browns that year. Meanwhile, the Browns only managed 23 sacks as a team on the year, and 23 takeaways. In 2006, the Browns got even worse, despite 11 sacks by rookie pass-rusher Kamerion Wimbley and the arrival of veteran Willie McGinest: the team managed 28 sacks as a unit, and finished as the 27th ranked defense in the league, as teams rushed 32 times per game against the ground at a 4.4 yard per carry clip.

Despite the Browns 10-6 mark in the 2007 season, the defense was again atrocious, finishing 30th in total defense and 21st in scoring. The pass defense was now as bad as the run defense and the team again only managed 28 sacks – Kamerion Wimbley in his second year had his production cut in half. Grantham was let go by Crennel, and replaced with Mel Tucker.

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  • Grantham went to Dallas to go work for Wade Phillips as a defensive line coach after his failed tenure in Cleveland. His tenure in Dallas as a d-line coach was a success: Jay Ratliff had his two best seasons under Grantham, recording 13. 5 sacks in two seasons, qualifying for the Pro Bowl twice and being named first team All-Pro once. In 2009, Dallas also featured the NFL’s fourth-best run defense.

    Grantham’s next job was to join Mark Richt’s staff at the University of Georgia as his defensive coordinator. Grantham took over a talented defensive unit that included Justin Houston, Akeem Dent, and Brandon Boykin and had them playing great football, finishing in the top third in the country in scoring defense and allowing only 3.7 yards per carry against opposing rushers. His 2011 unit, led by Boykin, Baccari Rambo and Jarvis Jones, was even better, allowing only less than 20 points and only 277 yards per game, 5th best in major college football that year.

    His 2012 unit, still featuring Rambo and Jones along with Alec Ogeltree, finished 35th in the country in total defense, while still allowing less than 20 points per game. In 2013 the Bulldogs defense fell to 45th in the country in total defense and down into the bottom half in scoring as Ogeltree and Jones moved on and the unit was led by Ramik Wilson and Amarlo Herrera. After the disappointing year, Grantham left to become the Defensive Coordinator for Bobby Petrino in Louisville. He had a good run in Georgia, and that run put its stamp on the NFL, as twelve players who played on Grantham’s defense were drafted.

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    Grantham was hired by Bobby Petrino to be his defensive coordinator with the Louisville Cardinals this past season, replacing Vance Bedford, who had gone on to Texas. In 2013, under Bedford, the Cardinals defense had finished an impressive second in the nation allowing only 252 yards per game including a best-in-the-nation 81.5 rushing yards per game. Despite the loss of Calvin Pryor, Preston Brown and Marcus Smith to the NFL, Grantham helped the Cardinals defense remain solid, finishing sixth in the nation this year in total defense. His defense is poised to lose as many as eight players before next year.

    Grantham has generally coached 3-4 base defenses in his career as a coordinator and during much of his time as a defensive line coach. While Jack Del Rio has traditionally been a 4-3 guy, Del Rio also used 3-4 looks heavily while in Denver over the past three years, and NFL defenses in 2015 generally aren’t limited to a single front look anymore. Grantham’s college units were usually defined by great edge rushers, tough interior run defense, and good safety play.

    If he is indeed the next Defensive Coordinator in Oakland, he will inherit a very flexible personnel group that will allow him to install his defense immediately. He is no stranger to moving players to new roles in his scheme, as he did in Louisville, but he will have a pretty easy time doing it with the current Raider roster: LaMarr Woodley and Benson Mayowa can both play stand-up outside linebacker (Woodley went to the Pro Bowl from that position with the Steelers), and Khalil Mack is probably most naturally a 3-4 outside linebacker. Sio Moore projects well as a weakside interior linebacker or as an outside linebacker in the 3-4, and Nick Roach, if he returns, can play the Mike. Justin Ellis is a pure nose tackle, and Antonio Smith and CJ Wilson are true 3-4 defensive ends.

    Justin Tuck has been a 4-3 player throughout his career but was used in Justin Tarver’s occasional 3-man fronts last year as well. If Grantham is to be the DC, it changes some of what Oakland may do with the draft and free agency regarding defensive players, as well: 3-4 rush linebackers and “tweener” types who may not have been worth a high draft pick for a team with a 4-3 base front – like Randy Gregory or Dante Fowler – might now be worth taking high.

    Grantham, a very well-regarded college defensive coordinator, had one run in the NFL that failed miserably, but he is not the first coach to come back for a second run at the pro game and redeem himself. For Jack Del Rio to target a coach who he has never worked with speaks volumes, especially when there are coaches like Brian VanGorder and others with whom he has a more familiar relationship.