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Lincoln Riley Leaving Oklahoma For USC Head Coaching Job

Ross Everett
by in NCAAF on
  • Lincoln Riley is leaving the head football coaching job at the University of Oklahoma to accept the vacant position at the University of Southern California (USC).
  • Riley led Oklahoma to four consecutive Big 12 titles and three College Football Playoff appearances in his first four seasons.
  • Riley replaces former USC head coach Clay Helton who was fired earlier this season.

Earlier this weekend, University of Oklahoma head football coach Lincoln Riley emphatically insisted that he wouldn’t be leaving to take the vacant job at LSU. Instead, he shocked the football world by accepting a similar position at the University of Southern California (USC). In leaving Oklahoma for the west coast, Riley becomes the first Sooners’ head to coach to quit to take another job since Jim Tatum left for Maryland in 1947.

Oklahoma is back searching for a coach for the first time since 1999 when they hired Bob Stoops. Stoops coached OU for 18 years before retiring in 2017. That’s when Riley took over the program and continued Stoops’ legacy of success. In his first four seasons coaching the Sooners they’ve won four straight Big 12 titles and three College Football Playoff appearances. After the move to USC was made public, Riley characterized the decision to leave Oklahoma as one of the most difficult of his life:

“Leaving OU was probably the most difficult decision of my life. OU is one of the best college football programs in the country, and it has been forever. … This was a personal decision solely based on my willingness to go take on a new challenge, and I felt like it was the right opportunity for me and my family to do that.”

The 38 year old Riley will take over the USC Trojans football coaching job after his predecessor, Clay Helton, was fired earlier this year. Helton posted a 46-24 record in seven seasons. USC Athletic Director Mike Bohn is hopeful that he has finally found the right coach to lead the program for the long term:

“Lincoln is the rarest combination of extraordinary person and elite football coach. His successes and offensive accolades as a head coach the past five years are astonishing. … Lincoln is universally considered one of the brightest and most talented football coaches in the nation, and the fact that he chose USC is a testament to the strength of our brand, the power of the Trojan Family, and the leadership of our university.”

Riley is aware of the tradition of USC football as well as the high expectations that come with it:

“I am truly excited to come to USC and join the Trojan Family as its new head football coach. USC has an unparalleled football tradition with tremendous resources and facilities, and the administration has made a deep commitment to winning. I look forward to honoring that successful tradition and building on it. The pieces are in place for us to build the program back to where it should be and the fans expect it to be.  We will work hard to develop a physical football team that is dominant on both lines of scrimmage, and has a dynamic balanced offense and a stout aggressive defense. 

Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione released a statement thanking Riley for his service to the program:

“I’d like to thank Coach Riley for all he has done to help our football program since he arrived in Norman in 2015. When we met with the team today, I communicated to our players that our program is about them. It will always be bigger than any one person. And just as it’s always been, Oklahoma football is positioned for greatness.”

Riley’s predecessor on the Oklahoma sidelines–Bob Stoops–will serve as interim head coach and lead the team in their bowl game. Stoops said that even though he’s retired his loyalty to the OU program endures:

“First and foremost, I’m a program guy and whatever I can do to help OU and to support the players, of course I’m glad to do i. I’ll do everything I can to help them finish the season in a strong and successful way and I look forward to that.”

Oklahoma is planning to move to the SEC in the near future and there is speculation that this played a part in Riley’s decision to leave for USC. Earlier in the weekend, Riley gave this downright inscrutable assessment of what the move to the toughest college football conference in the country will mean to the OU program:

“I have no concerns about our administration, our AD, our presiden. We’ve been through a lot together. This isn’t our first rodeo together. So, we always have conversations about the future. And certainly with all that’s changing right now in the college landscape, all that’s getting ready to change, for us, at some point here we transition into a new conference, those are always conversations that we’re going to have, and we would be having those yearly no matter what.”

The focus now turns to the future of the Oklahoma coaching job. One candidate that has already been mentioned by ‘sources’ in the sports media is current Arizona Cardinals’ head coach Kliff Kingsbury. The move from the NFL to college is not unprecedented but it rare for a coach to leave a pro team ‘on the rise’. The Cardinals are 9-2 on the season and lead the NFC West.

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