During his introductory press conference at the VMAC on February 1, new Seattle Seahawks head coach Mike Macdonald wasn't secretive in regard to what he wanted from an incoming offensive coordinator on his first coaching staff.
Though prior experience obviously would be considered as part of the evaluation process, Macdonald desired a coach who offered great football character and knew how to cultivate positive relationships. Most importantly, he sought a play caller who possessed a "growth mindset," or the ability to be flexible and adapt rather than being stuck in his ways schematically and communicating with players.
In a profession where the words from a coach's mouth can ring hollow, Macdonald held firm to those criteria pursuing the best fit for the position, ultimately hiring former Washington offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb to fill the vacancy.
Even without any NFL experience to his name, as Macdonald explained speaking with Mike Salk and Brock Huard on Seattle Sports 710 on Monday, he had "been on my radar" for some time and checked off all of the aforementioned boxes.
"Getting to know him throughout the process and the type of guy he is, he's been a winner everywhere he's been." Macdonald said of Grubb, acknowledging he would indeed be Seattle's new offensive coordinator. "And I think it speaks to his football character and things that him and Kalen [Deboer] have done over time. Everywhere they've gone, they've really rebuilt the culture where they've been, and they've won immediately, having that type of growth mindset, being able to adapt to the players that he has in his scheme. And I just respect what his offense looks like."
Resume-wise, few coaches can match Grubb's wealth of experience and versatility climbing the ladder in multiple levels of the college ranks. After coaching running backs and receivers at South Dakota State, he initially made his mark as an offensive line coach at NAIA program Sioux Falls, helping the Cougars win two national titles in three seasons before being promoted to offensive coordinator in 2010.
Following four successful seasons as a play caller at Sioux Falls, Grubb reunited with Deboer at Eastern Michigan, returning to his roots as an offensive line coach. Along with coaching a line that finished in the top-10 in fewest sacks allowed in 2016, the Eagles also produced their seventh-best rushing yardage total that season, illustrating his immense impact in all phases of the offense.
Wearing multiple hats at Fresno State, Grubb started out as an offensive line coach and run game coordinator, once again coaching a fantastic offensive line that consistently ranked among the nation's best in limiting sacks. Turning a new leaf after being elevated to offensive coordinator in 2019, he orchestrated one of the country's most explosive passing games with quarterback Jake Haener at the wheel, as the Bulldogs finished in the top 35 in passing offense each of his three seasons as play caller.
Over the past two seasons, Grubb turned in his finest work yet, helping quarterback Michael Penix develop into a Heisman finalist while transforming Washington's offense into a top-10 scoring unit. While the Huskies threw the ball more than 60 percent of the time and finished in the top three in passing both in 2022 and 2023, Macdonald took notice of their offensive efficiency and effective usage of pre-snap motion and shifts, seeing the ability to maximize personnel and adjust schematically he coveted from an offensive coordinator.
"Initially you look at the pass stats and you're like 'man, they're chucking it all over,' but they've been able to possess the ball and be efficient in how they operate," Macdonald said. "And I think that's also reflective of the roster that they had in Washington, and being able to accentuate the guys that they had and the talent that they had. So that speaks to adaptability and his flexibility and how he calls it."
Often times, offenses built around pass-heavy attacks can struggle with time of possession and can put the defense in a bind as a result. But as Macdonald noted, under Grubb's watch, Washington excelled at sustaining and finishing drives, including finishing first in the country converting on 56.1 percent of their third down attempts in 2022 and ranking ninth in points per play in 2023.
As for time of possession, Washington finished a respectable 35th holding onto the ball north of 31 minutes per game in 2022, sitting in the top quarter of the FBS division. They weren't quite as good in that regard last season, in part due to a slight decline in third down effectiveness, but still finished in the middle of the pack at 64th overall out of 131 teams.
Looking at the Huskies offensive production over the past two seasons, Penix and a talented stable of receivers and tight ends understandably have drawn most of the attention with the program putting up video game-like passing numbers. But much of that success wouldn't have happened without elite play from the offensive line and an underrated complementary ground game.
Leaning on Grubb's background as an offensive line coach, Washington did a phenomenal job keeping Penix upright, as the team finished in the top five in fewest sacks allowed per game in 2022 and 2023. In the run game department, the Huskies rushed for 1,898 yards while averaging 4.7 yards per carry and scoring a whopping 32 touchdowns on the ground in 2022. They nearly equaled those numbers last season, producing close to 1,800 rushing yards and 28 rushing touchdowns.
As for what Grubb's offense could look like transitioning to the NFL level, citing his experience as an "o-line guy at heart" as an appealing asset, Macdonald indicated his proficiency scheming the run game likely will be highlighted more with the Seahawks. But don't expect him to reinvent the wheel either, as pre-snap motion, screens, and explosive downfield concepts will remain big parts of the menu in an aggressive, yet fundamentally-sound attack.
"We're going to be a physical unit, we're gonna run the football, and we want to have answers for the quarterback and we want to keep it consistent for him so he can play fast and play decisive and get the ball to our playmakers," Macdonald stated. "I know that's kind of coach speak. But it needs to be an efficient unit, we want to be able to possess the ball, we want to be able to obviously be explosive and not turn the ball over. And I think that's going to come through run and play action on early downs. And then when we are forced to drop back in those situations, having a consistency in the quarterback's reads so he can play fast and be decisive."
Now that he's officially been hired, Grubb's imprint on Seattle's new-look offense won't truly become visible until September at the conclusion of training camp and the preseason and plenty of key decisions need to be made in coming weeks in terms of coaching and player personnel.
First, Macdonald must continue filling out his offensive staff, including hiring a quarterback coach to pair with his new offensive coordinator. In addition, while Scott Huff followed Grubb from Alabama to take the offensive line coaching gig in a significant move for the organization, the team will still need to add a running backs coach, receivers coach, and other assistants to the fold.
Second, the Seahawks have to make a decision on the future of Geno Smith, whose $12.7 million base salary becomes guaranteed on February 16. Away from the quarterback spot, starting guards Damien Lewis and Phil Haynes as well as center Evan Brown will all be free agents on March 13, as will tight ends Noah Fant and Colby Parkinson, leaving some choices to be made on who could return to play for Grubb.
But while there's much to do before Grubb begins to build his first NFL offense, Macdonald couldn't be more excited about his addition to the staff both as a play caller and a teacher. After putting on a full court press to land him as the new coordinator, he's eager to see what the creative coach comes up with utilizing his growth mindset to get the most out of a talented group of skill players.