The college football season starts in two and a half months. When it does, few coaches will be under more of a spotlight – or shoulder more pressure – than Lincoln Riley. The man who will succeed a Hall of Famer and a legend, Bob Stoops, will lead one of the most storied programs in college football. He must live with and then live up to the expectations placed on an Oklahoma head coach. Here are a few details about the man who hopes he is ready for his big moment:
1) He Was Already Being Groomed For This Job
There were some eyebrows raised when Lincoln Riley received a lucrative contract as an assistant coach, more than the industry average. It could simply have been viewed as a move to prevent other schools from hiring him away as a head coach, but others felt this was a move made to set up a succession plan, and that is the interpretation which proved to be correct. Bob Stoops, who had coached Oklahoma to glory (a 2000 national championship) over the past 18 years, stepped away on his own, not because of scandal or health reasons. This was a planned handover, and Riley became a central part of Oklahoma’s plans in the past two years, since he came to Norman.
2) He Coached Two Heisman Finalists At Oklahoma Before Being Named Head Coach
The skill of Riley as an offensive coordinator can be explained in many ways, but none are more convincing or eye-catching than his ability to cultivate Heisman finalists. Quarterback Baker Mayfield and receiver Dede Westbrook were both good enough to go to the Downtown Athletic Club in New York. The Oklahoma name had a lot to do with those selections, but Riley deserves more credit than anyone else. He dramatically improved the consistency and efficiency of the Oklahoma offense compared to the 2012 through 2014 seasons. Oklahoma’s offenses played much better in the Big 12 games they needed to win in 2015 and 2016. That’s Riley’s product.
3) He Won The 2015 Broyles Award
The things Riley did with Mayfield and Westbrook, plus Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon, have enabled Oklahoma’s offense to be reliably potent and not dogged by the inconsistency which marked the program in the years before his arrival on the job as Stoops’ offensive coordinator. When Oklahoma made the College Football Playoff in 2015, the Sooners’ achievements were so profound that Lincoln Riley was honored with the Broyles Award, annually given to college football’s top assistant coach, usually a coordinator.
There are few people that are worried about the Sooners offense under Riley. The general consensus is that the team won’t skip a bit there. However, there is a lot more to coaching and game decisions than that. That’s where Riley must prove himself.
4) He Is The Youngest Head Coach In The FBS
This seems like an astounding fact, but it’s not. Riley is younger than all his other FBS colleagues (nearly 130 of them) at age 33. Is this unwise by Oklahoma? Not really. The Sooners hired Stoops and Bud Wilkinson and Barry Switzer when they were all in their 30s. They all became great head coaches at OU, and they had never been head coaches at other places before being hired in Norman. This continues a historical pattern for the Sooners. They’ve done this many times now and are hoping that they have another long-standing head coach on their hands with Riley. Only time will tell, though.
5) He Has Just Reunited With Ruffin McNeill
This is a late-breaking story. Riley was offensive coordinator for McNeill at East Carolina. When Riley moved to OU, East Carolina surprisingly fired McNeill (after lasting as head coach for a little while), which many people in college football felt was unfair. Now, Lincoln Riley, in his position of new power, hired McNeill to coach Oklahoma’s interior defensive linemen. The pairing should be a very successful one.
McNeill isn’t exactly a household name in terms of coaching but he is a respected defensive mind. He should be able to improve the Sooners interior and have them being a little more effective along the line of scrimmage.
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