- Heather Dinich, ESPN Staff Writer
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Todd Grantham had his reasons.
When Georgia’s defensive coordinator left for the same position at Louisville, many outside the program were perplexed by the move.
To Grantham, though, it was as simple as an opportunity – he said he believes Louisville can win a national title as an ACC member. He pointed to the athletic administration’s support of the program and called Tom Jurich “one of the top ADs in the country.” He pointed to the success Bobby Petrino already has had at Louisville, and said, “in my mind, they were going to do it again, only this time work to do it better.” The chance for Grantham to hire his brother, Tony, from Navy, was important to him and his family. All of those things, he said, coupled with Louisville’s move to the ACC in time for the start of the College Football Playoff, lured him away from the SEC.
“In reality, if you can win the ACC, your chances of being in that tournament are really good,” Grantham said. “The combination of all those things intrigued me, and it was something I felt like I wanted to try to do and I look forward to it.”
He’s also looking forward to the challenge he’ll get it in Year 1.
Grantham inherits a defense that loses seven starters, including five in the front seven, both safeties and the leading pass rusher from the 2013 season. Louisville has to replace linebacker Preston Brown (who led the team in tackles), defensive end Marcus Smith (second in the nation in sacks), and the stellar safety duo of Hakeem Smith (first-team All-American Athletic Conference) and Calvin Pryor (second in tackles).
“That’s part of coaching,” Grantham said. “That’s why it’s important to recruit and develop players. We’ll work with the players we have. Everyone is kind of new right now. Everyone will get a chance. We’ll evaluate everyone and give them a chance to compete for a starting job.”
Grantham compared it to when he arrived at Georgia, and everyone wanted to know how he was going to replace Justin Houston, who had left early for the NFL.
“The big topic then was we had nobody to rush the passer,” Grantham said. “Low and behold, a guy named Jarvis Jones comes along and has 28 sacks in two years and we’re all good again.”
Jones, who was drafted last spring in the first round by the Pittsburgh Steelers and still talks to Grantham on a regular basis, said Grantham would invite the defensive players to his house for a barbecue, and they’d go out to eat as a defense so everyone knew that it wasn’t “just about football.” Jones said he wasn’t surprised by Grantham’s decision to leave Georgia.
“There’s always opportunities,” Jones said. “He probably felt like his opportunity was better, or they put him in a better situation. You never know what’s going on, man. I know he loved the University of Georgia, he loved the guys he had there, but you never know why. I’m sure the guys there are going to love him. The fans at Louisville are going to love him. He brings so much energy to the game. The stuff he did for us at Georgia was great. He’s got that demeanor about him, and it shows. We had the top defense and coach Grantham and his staff was the reason why.”
As he did at Georgia, Grantham plans to change Louisville from a 4-3 to a 3-4 base defense. With the exception of last season, when the Bulldogs were a young, injury-laden group and the scoring defense was ranked No. 79 in the country at 29 points per game, Georgia’s defense received high praise under Grantham during his four seasons as defensive coordinator.
Last year’s group still finished eighth in the country in tackles for loss and 28th in sacks. Grantham said he will continue to employ an attacking-style philosophy. He said that heading into last season, Georgia forced 62 turnovers in two years, second only to LSU (63), and that’s why they were able to get to the SEC title game twice.
He has the same plan in the ACC.
“We’re upgrading our schedule and going into a major conference, so we’re going to be playing some talented teams. Anytime the playing field becomes equal like that, your turnover ratio becomes a very critical stat. When you get the ball one more time than the other team, your chances of winning go up about 93 or 95 percent.”
More often than not, it worked.
In 2012, Georgia ended the season ranked 18th in the country in scoring defense, holding five opponents to 10 or fewer points, and finishing eighth nationally in pass defense. In his second season at Georgia, the defense finished fifth nationally in total defense, third in third-down defense, fifth in interceptions, and seventh in turnovers gained (32), which ranked first in the SEC.
“Coach Grantham had a tremendous impact on myself,” said former Georgia defensive tackle John Jenkins, who said he was the first player Grantham recruited. “He pushed me to limits I never thought I could reach. He’s a coach who understands players. He’s not a coach who has one way. He knows how to adjust and evolve his coaching style to fit everybody. He’s a go-getter type coach. He allows you to express yourself on and off the field.
“They’re going to love him,” Jenkins said. “They’re going to love him. I believe that with my heart.”