The creek kept them occupied. The boys would carry their fishing poles across the grass as instructed, past the yellow uprights and beyond the back corner of the field. They would cast their lines, hoping to get a nibble, while their father, sturdy and strong, would watch when he could. But work invariably would require his attention.
“He had us fishing behind the park,” Chad Grimm recalled of those excursions with his younger brother Cody. “And then he was like, ‘Okay, I’ve got to go to practice. You guys fish for a little bit and come walk through the practice field when you’re done.’ ”
His dad, Hall of Famer and Washington Redskins legend Russ Grimm, remembers those days, too.
“Sometimes you’d have to go to practice and hope they stay out of trouble,” Russ said by phone a few weeks later with a deep, throaty chuckle. “That is until practice was over and they’re covered in mud and everything else. But boys will be boys.”
Decades later, Chad, the oldest of the four Grimm children at age 32, finds himself not far from that very creek, patrolling that same practice field. He roams the same hallways his father once did, back when Russ was a fixture in Ashburn as the tight ends and offensive line coach, watching film in an office three doors down from the one that belonged to his dad.
“Yeah, there’s a lot of history here,” Chad said during a recent interview, donning a Redskins pullover, shorts and a No. 2 pencil behind his right ear.
His first season in his new role as Washington’s outside linebackers coach — a promotion from his previous stint as the team’s defensive quality control coach in 2015 and 2016 — is nearing a close. But during a half-hour break from his game-week preparation, Chad paused to reflect on the path that led him back to his home state of Virginia, his dream of becoming an NFL head coach and the external pressure of living up to his famous last name.
[During an NFL season of protests and criticism, Chris Long asked, ‘Why not help?’]
Russ is the offensive line coach for the Tennessee Titans, but his legacy will forever loom large over the Redskins franchise. As an original member of the “Hogs” — Washington’s famed offensive lines of the 1980s and early 1990s — Russ was an unstoppable force during the team’s run to three Super Bowl titles. He helped pave the way for Redskins greatness more than 30 years ago.
Chad’s contributions to the Redskins will never come on the gridiron like his famous father’s. Nevertheless, he relishes the opportunity to share another link with his old man.
Life, as he says, has come “full circle.”
“A lot of people say all the time, ‘Oh, I’m so blessed.’ But honestly, it is the exact feeling I have every day. And I’m thankful,” said Chad, who was raised 15 minutes from Redskins Park in Fairfax County and graduated from Oakton High . “It just seemed like all of the stars kind of aligned.”
Returning to his roots
Chad traces his father’s image on the wall, guiding his fingertips over the flat surface of Russ’s hard expression.
The snapshot of Russ’s Hall of Fame bust from his 2010 Canton induction is just one of many photos used in a mural that spans a wall outside of the Redskins’ locker room. Down that same hallway, to the right, a collage of Redskins greats adorns the double-doors leading to the weight room. At the top, the acronym “HTTR” (“Hail to the Redskins”) is emblazoned in yellow block letters. On the bottom right, Russ’s hulking frame and the “8” of his No. 68 jersey are visible behind fellow Hall of Famer Ken Houston.
“I’m just proud,” Chad said, beaming. “I obviously grew up a huge Redskins fan. So it’s like a constant reminder that I get to work for the team I grew up loving when he was playing. . . . It’s pretty sweet.
“Every time I go to dinner or I go into the locker room, it’s a little reminder of how our family and the Redskins family are linked.”
Chad, who was 7 when his father retired from the NFL, still remembers wearing Russ’s jersey to Redskins home games and at home while the family watched games on “one of those huge box TVs.”
He added, “We’d say, ‘Oh, there’s Dad!’ and we’d point to him.”
Russ was an immense figure during his playing days — 6-foot-3, 273 pounds — and the last name Grimm came with an unspoken responsibility.
“Obviously, you had the pressures of not wanting to be a” screw-up. Chad said. “My dad, he was always gone so much with coaching, so when he was around, it was kind of like you wanted to impress him. You were seeking his approval.”
But by the time he walked on at Virginia Tech as a special-teamer and occasional linebacker, Chad had confronted the obvious truth about his athletic shortcomings: He was too undersized to make an NFL roster, let alone carve out a Hall of Fame career like his dad.
“I can remember meeting people and them being like, ‘Wait, you’re Russ Grimm’s son? What the hell happened? I thought you’d be bigger,'” said the 5-10 Chad, who weighed 184 pounds in college. “When that would come up, I’d be like, ‘Yeah, well, maybe I got more of my mom’s genes.’ ”
(Karen Grimm, he guessed, is 5-4.)
“Obviously, he was such a great football player that people just assumed I was supposed to be some great football player, too.”
But Russ tried to ensure that his three boys never felt pressured to be him.
“Obviously, they didn’t have my size, so that was a plus because I didn’t have to worry about them playing offensive line,” said Russ, who became the Titans’ line coach in January 2016 after coaching stops in Washington, Pittsburgh and Arizona. “You kind of want them to look up to you — to a certain point. I always felt that you want them to be their own person. Not always try to mimic what Dad does.”
Unlike Cody — a former Oakton standout and Virginia Tech star who was drafted in the seventh round by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2010 — Chad’s entree into the NFL came through coaching.
He spent four seasons as an offensive quality control coach for the Arizona Cardinals — at the time, Russ was their offensive line coach — before becoming a defensive quality control coach for the San Diego Chargers. Then in January 2015, Chad returned to his roots, joining Coach Jay Gruden’s staff.
In his defensive quality control role, he assisted the outside linebackers and helped Preston Smith lead all rookies in sacks (eight) in 2015. This season, Ryan Kerrigan leads the team with 11 sacks, followed by Smith (eight).
“Just because he didn’t play in the league doesn’t mean he doesn’t know his stuff,” Kerrigan said of his position coach. “He’s as well prepared as any coach I’ve had. He’s very smart, works very hard at it, and you can see it in how well prepared we are.”
When Chad arrived at Redskins Park, he was greeted by a familiar face: “Ms. B.J.”
B.J. Blanchard, the team’s secretary the past 25 years, remembers Russ as both player and coach. (“She’s a beauty. That’s my favorite,” Russ said, warmly.) And she remembers his eldest son, too.
“The first week I started working,” Chad recalled, “she came by my office and said, ‘Do you remember me? I’m ‘Ms. B.J.’ and you and your brother were like this big, and I had to watch you guys when your dad was working and in meetings. You’d be running all through the building.’ ”
His own path
More than 600 miles now separate them, with once-a-week phone calls serving as their main source of communication in-season.
Russ had no reservations about his eldest son joining the coaching ranks; in his eyes, Chad’s “good instincts” and intelligence would carry him far in this profession. But the four-time Pro Bowl selection was quick to share some advice.
“I told him: Number one, if you’re going to get in it, you better know what you’re doing, and you better do it well or you’re not going to be in it very long,” Russ said. “And number two, you’re going to put in some hours. So, early in his career, we’d go to the beach for vacation in the summer, and he’d be like, ‘Oh, my life’s ready to end.’ And I said, ‘Yep, that’s right. You’re going to training camp.’ ”
Russ’s bluntness and tough exterior are byproducts of his rearing in Scottdale, Pa., a small town about 40 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. Russ has never been one to sugarcoat things, even with his kids.
“We joke all the time,” said Chad, who married his girlfriend, Michelle, in early July. “He’s a western [Pennsylvania] guy, so he’s not an ‘I love you,’ hugs kind of guy.”
Russ laughed when told of his reputation for being less than affectionate. “That’s what Moms are for,” he said, half-jokingly. “If they fall down, you tell them to get up. You don’t go over there and, like, baby them and rub it and everything else. Things happen in life where you’re going to get knocked down, and you’ve got to be able to get back up on your own and do it again.”
As Chad sets out to establish his identity in the NFL, he knows it’s impossible to separate his story from his father’s legacy. And he’s okay with that.
“Every single article that was ever written on me turns into an article about my Dad,” said Chad, noting that the same was true throughout Cody’s high school and collegiate career. “And he’s easy to write about because he has so many accomplishments. He’s in the Hall of Fame. I guess we were just always so comfortable with ourselves and okay that we didn’t ever feel the need to be him or live up to him.”