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An examination of Russ Grimm's coaching career

With the Arizona Cardinals blown out of the playoffs by the Saints on Saturday, Russ Grimm finds himself with some time on his hands. The Buffalo Bills have requested and received permission to interview Grimm for the head coaching vacancy which no one seems to want. Grimm was one of two coordinators - Brian Schottenheimer of the Jets was the other - Buffalo targeted after meeting with Leslie Frazier.

The 51-year-old Grimm is perhaps best known as a member of the legendary "Hogs," one of the better offensive lines in NFL history. Grimm was selected to the Pro Bowl in four straight seasons, and owns three Super Bowl rings - one of which he earned against the Bills. Grimm has regularly been mentioned for enshrinement in the Hall of Fame. Clearly, the man was a great offensive lineman.

Grimm began his coaching career with the Washington Redskins once his playing days were over. Oddly, he began with a five year stint as the tight ends coach before spending three years as the offensive line coach. Grimm moved on to Pittsburgh to coach the Steelers' offensive line, as well as assume assistant head coaching responsibilities. He has been the offensive line coach/assistant head coach of the Arizona Cardinals since 2007.

Grimm was a candidate for the head coaching vacancy in Chicago (after Dick Jauron was fired), but was passed over for Lovie Smith. When Bill Cowher resigned as head coach of the Steelers, Grimm was again considered for the opening. Reports emerged that Grimm was given the job, only to see it wrenched from him and given to Mike Tomlin. (The third finalist for the Steelers job was Ron Rivera, another possible candidate for Buffalo to pursue.)

While Grimm picked up a Super Bowl ring during his tenure in Pittsburgh, it's worth looking at how his offensive lines did under his tutelage. Since Grimm wasn't calling the plays, it didn't seem fair to look at the offense as a whole. Instead, here is how his offensive lines did in terms of sacks surrendered and rushing rankings, along with yards per attempt - three things over which Grimm had the greatest degree of control. Keep in mind that in the "Sack" and "Rush" columns, these are league rankings, not statistical totals.

Year Team Sack Rush Y/A
1997 WAS 9 21 3.6
1998 WAS 30 18 4.2
1999 WAS 6 9 4.4
2000 PIT 19 4 4.3
2001 PIT 11 1 4.8
2002 PIT 13 9 4.1
2003 PIT 21 31 4.8
2004 PIT 14 2 4.0
2005 PIT 15 5 4.0
2006 PIT 29 10 4.2
2007 ARI 9 29 3.6
2008 ARI 12 32 3.5
2009 ARI 7 28 4.1
AVG 15 15 4.1

As you can see, Grimm's units have been all over the map in both sacks and rushing yards. There are many ways to look at these stats. For example, Ben Roethlisberger became the Steelers' QB in 2004. His tendency to hold onto the ball certainly contributed to some of the sacks Grimm's line surrendered. However, the line ranked an average of No. 19 in sacks surrendered before Roethlisberger and a shade over No. 19 after his arrival.

Likewise, the Cardinals' rushing yards have been pitiful over Grimm's time as their offensive line coach. Arizona's phenomenal passing game certainly has something to do with those rankings. Would anyone seriously try to strike a balance between running and passing with Larry Fitzgerald running wild through the secondary?

The 4.1 yards per attempt average is a bit more re-assuring. Even that, however, can be looked at in a couple of ways. Grimm's line in Washington averaged right at 4.1 yards per attempt. With the Steelers, the average was 4.3. With the Cardinals, the average drops to 3.7. It's true that he didn't have a great deal to work with - Mike Gandy, a Buffalo cast-off, has been one of his starting linemen - but his line has been facing defenses worried about the pass... which, in theory, should have translated into more yards per carry.

Opinions will vary as to whether Russ Grimm would be a successful head coach of the Buffalo Bills or anyone else. It's clear that Grimm has been associated with successful teams, both as a player and as a coach. At some point, that stops being happenstance and has to be credited to the person. Has it reached that tipping point with Grimm?