There were too many openings at too many big colleges for a notable school or two not to be on the losing side even after being on the side of winning for so long. In a not so subtle reminder that there’s always a bigger fish, Lincoln Riley opted for Southern California rather than the Southeastern Conference as he accepted the head coach job at USC, leaving Oklahoma after 55 wins at the helm over nearly five seasons.
The hire is massive for USC; they lured away a coach that a lot of NFL teams wanted and can now parade around their purebred for a fanbase only ever content with Best in Show. The Pac-12 has been begging to be plundered of its College Football Playoff resources, and no one could take advantage. That’ll probably change as fast as the transfer portal will allow, but enough optimism.
What the hell is Oklahoma going to do now? (Besides decry Riley for treason.) They’re about to go from playing on the Freshman difficulty setting to Heisman (Rookie to All-Madden, for you people still playing games in production) and they have to do so with a coach from a pool of candidates that’s already overfished.
Sure, LSU and USC got their guys, but now Notre Dame is looking for an HC, along with Florida, and probably Miami and Florida State. Iowa State’s Matt Campbell and Baylor’s Dave Aranda are rumored to be in the mix, just like they are with every other opening that’s come up. For that reason — and the fact that they’re largely unproven — it’s going to be difficult to get Sooner fans and boosters on board if their new coach isn’t as splashy as the programs they’re on par with.
I know Riley never won a title at Oklahoma, but two Heisman winners and three playoff appearances is the standard by which the next coach will be measured. Even if they could convince Kliff Kingsbury to take the gig and leave the NFL, he was bootleg Lincoln Riley at Texas Tech before he took the Arizona Cardinals job, and coaching Kyler Murray doesn’t change that.
Recruits have already started decommitting, and sentences like “Oklahoma desperately needs to make a home run hire” are so obvious they needn’t be written. In the theme of blatantly true sentences, here’s another one: The SEC is vastly more difficult than the Big 12.
Imagine being in that meeting. “We’re moving to the best conference in college football and still expect to win Heismans, the conference and make the College Football Playoff. Where do you see yourself in five years?” Riley’s answer was, “In LA, trying to figure out how to fit in a round of golf between game planning for *checks schedule* Oregon State.” I would’ve picked SoCal (God, I feel pretentious just writing that) over the SEC, too.
Oklahoma has until 2025 to figure out how to maintain its status before arriving at a conference that no longer cares about who they are/were. Ask Nebraska how much weight decades of dominance over Kansas, Iowa State and the like carries. When you realign, the only welcoming people are the ones running the conference Twitter account.
There had to be a contingency plan in place in case of Riley’s departure because it was rumored so often. If there isn’t, and these candidates really are in the running to take over a perennial powerhouse, good luck.
Look at how Texas’ flavor of the year approach to hiring coaches has worked. Charlie Strong, Tom Herman and Steve Sarkisian were unproven commodities prior to becoming proven disappointments after the burden of expectations crushed them. I know Sark is still employed, but the only people hoping he remains that way are Sooner and SEC fans.
Side note: I like to look for unconventional ways for teams to succeed despite bad coaching, which I’m pretty sure is impossible, but here’s my advice for Texas: Go independent after your Big 12 contract is up. Who the hell knows what clusterfuck will come after the next money grab, so get ahead of the curve. You already have your own TV network that’s looking for a reason not to go the way of the ESPN Phone. You could tailor your schedule to play all your rivals or none of them, whatever gets you back to a bowl game.
I’m assuming Riley would never say he left a program to avoid adding another degree of difficulty to a goal that he hasn’t accomplished yet; the alpha male complex dictates as much. I’ll say it, though. The NFL was always going to be there for Riley, but USC offered an out in a field of work he’s well-versed at, and he took it.
Who could blame him? I’d rather have fans chanting “U-S-C!” than foes screaming “S-E-C!”