If Russ Grimm wants to be an NFL head coach — and surely he does — he’s found the perfect place to audition.
Grimm is an offensive line coach who coaches the offensive line from hell.
Or at least the perception of the Cardinals’ line is poor enough that if he succeeds, management teams throughout the league should be courting him at season’s end to be their head man.
Actually, Grimm is more than a line coach. He’s got the title of assistant head coach.
That the Cardinals acquired him after he appeared to narrowly lose out on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ head coaching job is considered a major coup.
He is a master of the sport’s brutal side, a maestro who directs the little-noticed but vital meat-grinding battles between 300-pounders dozens of times every game.
As a player, he was a member of “The Hogs,” one of the best-known offensive lines ever, the blockers for Washington Redskins teams that won three Super Bowls.
He was such a standout he’s been nominated for the Hall of Fame for the past two years.
Grimm, 48, then worked as an assistant coach for the Redskins for nine years and for the Steelers for the past six seasons. He was the Steelers’ assistant head coach during their Super Bowl title run two seasons ago.
It’s often said great players usually make subpar coaches because they don’t have the necessary patience to guide players who can’t match their own excellence.
Yet players sometimes see things from the reverse perspective.
“Coaches who haven’t played don’t understand what it takes and what they’re asking you to do,” Cardinals center Al Johnson said. “There’s nothing he’s asking us to do that we can’t do or he hasn’t done.
“There’s no question he’s played the game at a very high level in the NFL … And he’s coached great offensive lines.”
Guard Reggie Wells added, “You can probably relate to him better than any other line coach out there because of his playing experience and his coaching experience.”
In addition to his automatic credibility, Grimm has a gift for communicating clearly and simply, said head coach Ken Whisenhunt, a colleague in Pittsburgh.
Moreover, “Russ is very driven as a coach. One thing that’s special is that he’s not just an offensive line coach. He sees a lot of things, secondary, pass schemes.
“In setting up his protections and run schemes, he takes a lot of things into account.
“That makes it a lot easier for us.”
Grimm will need all these attributes and more.
The Cardinals are shifting to a run-first approach with some of the same linemen who were part of Edgerrin James’ career-low 3.4 yards per carry average last season and who helped push Dennis Green into premature coaching retirement.
Do you believe in miracles?
“I’m no miracle worker,” Grimm said. “I can tell you that. I don’t think you have to be.
“These guys are good football players. They take pride in what they’re doing.
“My job is to teach, make sure to get them in the right place and with the right techniques. Come Sundays I think we’ll be all right.”
As Grimm sees it, “My No. 1 job is to make sure we understand the plays, where the help is coming from, what the back sees, what the quarterback is looking at, problems with protection,” etc.
In other words, “Get ’em to understand. And then to put them in the best place to be successful.”
In more specific terms, “If the right tackle is struggling a little, then make sure we get a back or a tight end over there. You can’t ask him to do all that another player does.”
“You have to do what’s best for the team.”
Grimm said he’s not sure yet whether his group is better at run blocking or pass protection.
“We’ll see on Saturday (today),” he said. “We’ll have to do both. We can’t be one-sided, If you are, you’ll win some games, but it’s not going to take you where you want to go. You have to have both run and pass.”
As for the idea great players don’t have the patience for coaching, Grimm said, “My No. 1 thing is I’m stress free. You give me all the effort you’ve got. You do the things I ask, and I have no problem.
“The guys on the other side of the ball are getting paid, too. But we’re going to win more than our share.”
At the same time, Grimm said, “I’m probably more nervous as a coach. As a player, I knew if I was ready to play and handle different situations.”
As a coach, he worries the night before a game about whether he covered every detail enough with his players and whether they can adjust to different approaches by opponents.
He might have been worrying about these things as the head coach of the Steelers had the club gone with him instead of the younger, lesser-known Mike Tomlin.
Grimm swears he’s “stress free” about this, too.
“I took a run at the job, and they selected somebody else. You let it go off your back and you move right on,” he said. “I’m not going to let things eat away at me. I worry about things that are happening now and tomorrow.
“Right now, it’s the Arizona Cardinals’ offensive line. Everything else I’ll take care of down the road.”
If he succeeds this season, all of this will work out.