In a stunning move, Lincoln Riley has taken the head coaching job at USC, vacating the same role at Oklahoma. Riley amassed a 55-10 record as the Sooners head coach, leading the team to four consecutive Big 12 championships and 3 College Football Playoff appearances.
For years, rumors have swirled regarding Lincoln Riley taking a job at another school or even in the NFL. This year was no exception. Many believed that Riley would be more inclined to take the LSU head coaching job instead, replacing Ed Orgeron, who led the Tigers to a 63-28 trouncing of Riley’s Sooners in the CFP semifinal just two years ago. Some believed it was a done deal, with Oklahoma State playing the song “Callin’ Baton Rouge” during its defeat of Oklahoma on Saturday night. When questioned after the game, Riley stated: “I’m not going to be the next coach at LSU.” While Riley did not lie to the press, he certainly chose his words carefully.
Riley briefly addressed the team on Sunday and then quickly departed for Los Angeles. His assistants were not far behind, but opted for a more discreet getaway. Defensive coordinator Alex Grinch, WR coach Dennis Simmons, Director of Operations Clarke Stroud and Strength coach Bennie Wylie boarded a jet during the dead of night on Sunday. They made it seem as if they had something to hide, almost ashamed of their actions. Their exit could be compared to that of a supervillain, which Sooner fans would certainly agree with at this point, as reflected by the “Traitor” signs that were spotted around Oklahoma’s football facilities this morning.
Sooner fans are somewhat justified in their anger. This is a very odd time for Riley to depart Norman. Oklahoma is a perennial contender for the national championship, despite their shortcomings in the CFP to this point. The Sooners will be moving to the SEC within the next few years, leading to more national exposure, revenue for the university, and in turn, more recruits and potentially more money in future contracts for Riley.
Riley is not exactly leaving for a program with a better outlook, either. Oklahoma’s 2022 recruiting class ranks 11th in the nation. The program also appears to be in good hands with true freshman QB Caleb Williams at the helm. USC’s recruiting class ranks 9th in the Pac-12. The Trojans went through two different quarterbacks en route to a 4-7 record (they finish their season with Cal this Saturday in a game that was postponed from earlier this season). The Pac-12 is consistently weak and, as a result, does not receive much respect from the CFP committee in its rankings. Riley will have to work hard to scour the transfer portal to build USC back to its former glory. It will not be easy.
Back in Norman, the Sooners will need to find a new head coach and play caller. They will need to move quickly to secure a high profile candidate, as recruits will decommit and choose other schools if the situation is not remedied. Five have already decommitted and many more will come. It will be difficult to find someone to fill Lincoln Riley’s shoes, but Oklahoma might have already found its answer. Former Sooners head coach Bob Stoops will serve as the interim coach for the bowl game. However, Stoops has already stated that he is hitting the recruiting trail this week to try to do some damage control. Could Oklahoma turn to Stoops once again to groom another young play caller to take over in a few years and keep the Sooners competitive?