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Seattle Seahawks

Commentary: Ryan Grubb will join Seahawks with much to prove as an NFL offensive coordinator

Former Washington Huskies offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb at practice last spring.  (Seattle Times)
By Matt Calkins Seattle Times

SEATTLE – Well, the fans seem happy. Not that any polls have been conducted to confirm, but the Seahawks reportedly hiring Ryan Grubb as their new offensive coordinator appears to have the locals bubbling with joy.

This was the mastermind behind the Huskies’ tops-in-the-country passing attack over the past two years, with Grubb serving as the OC at UW during its 25-3 stretch.

The man’s playcalling often made opposing defensive backs look as if they were walk-ons just days into learning formations and coverage schemes. And that fourth-quarter, fourth-down conversion vs. Washington State in the Apple Cup, when Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. flipped it to Rome Odunze for a 23-yard run that helped keep the Dawgs’ perfect record intact? One of the great designs in the program’s history.

But the pros are a lot different. And Grubb’s hiring comes with questions. Here are a few.

Was Grubb selected because he was the best man for the job, or because he was a local legend?

These two aren’t actually mutually exclusive, but it’s worth asking. No doubt Grubb was a hot name in the college football ranks, as was indicated by Alabama’s interest in him before ex-Huskies coach Kalen DeBoer bolted for Tuscaloosa. But was he on the radar of any other NFL team looking for a new OC?

Before Grubb’s hire, I was telling colleagues (at Dino’s Pub in Renton, where this whole story broke) that teams should never bring on key personnel for the sake of appeasing fans. The enduring appeasement will come with wins.

But Seahawks general manager John Schneider and staff had a front-row seat for what Grubb and the Huskies’ offense produced over the past two seasons. Not every game was magical – but the offensive duds were sparse and were almost always followed by high-scoring affairs.

These Seahawks don’t have a history of taking on locals for their own sake. The number of high-level Huskies they passed on in previous drafts (Budda Baker, anyone?) says as much. Some might suspect this had as much to do with name familiarity as it does track record, but I doubt it. Grubb is proven. It’s just …

Can he improve the Seahawks’ running game?

The Huskies led the country in passing yards per game in 2022 and were second last season (first before the national championship game). However, they were 69th in rushing in ’22 and 106th last season.

Hey, when you have Penix at quarterback and a receiving corps comprising Odunze, Jalen McMillan and Ja’Lynn Polk, you’d be foolish not to utilize those weapons as often as possible.

But the Huskies’ rushing shortcomings weren’t simply the result of low volume. They were 65th in yards per carry last season, and that was against defenses regularly worried about the Heisman finalist under center.

The Seahawks don’t have the NFL equivalent of Penix in Geno Smith. They need to be able to move the football on the ground and were 28th in rushing yards last season.

Remember, Grubb was an offensive line coach at Sioux Falls, Eastern Michigan and Fresno State. His résumé suggests he understands the intricacies of the trenches better than most. But one has to think he has this gig because of what his last team accomplished in the air. Now we’ll see whether he can bring balance to an offense in a league where that’s essential.

Can he succeed without the game’s best?

Washington was a super team on the offensive side of the ball in 2023. Penix finished second in the Heisman race in a year teeming with uncanny throws. Odunze is a first-round pick on every draft board you can find, and offensive tackle Troy Fautanu is a first-rounder on most. There were McMillan and Polk as well, who were regular threats to amass 100 receiving yards in a game when healthy. That type of star power will make any OC look like a genius.

Of course, those who watched the Huskies consistently saw that the play-calling regularly left opposing defenses baffled. Grubb’s biggest cheerleaders will say his players benefited as much from him as he did them, which is why he was able to command a $2 million-a-year salary as an assistant.

But unless Schneider dominates the draft or free agency (not out of the question), Grubb will be working with more moderate personnel relative to his opponents.

Outside of head coach Mike Macdonald – a defensive guru – this will be the most important coaching hire the Seahawks make this offseason. And though Grubb has proved plenty, there is still plenty to prove.