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Lincoln Riley Q&A
On Sale at Newsstands Aug. 28, 2017!
Sooner Spectator talks to OU's new head coach
From the moment he took over as receivers coach at Texas Tech at the ripe old age of 23, Lincoln Riley has been on the fast track to success — showcasing an uncanny ability to relate to collegiate players and an uncommon talent for devising prolific offensive schemes.
Over the past decade — including two noteworthy seasons at Oklahoma in 2015 and 2016 — Riley’s rapid maturation into a respected coordinator helped him become one of the most sought-after offensive minds in the game. Even as the Sooners looked to lock him in with a new lucrative contract this spring, the rest of the college football world was looking for ways to lure Riley away.
Then out of the blue, that fast track got even faster when longtime OU coach Bob Stoops decided to retire in early June. That same day, the 33-year-old Riley was named the program’s 22nd head coach, making him the youngest head coach in the FBS.
How did Riley come so far so fast?
Maybe senior OU quarterback Baker Mayfield said it best in a June 7 tweet…
“There is not a better man to take over for this program,” wrote Mayfield. “I truly believe you are the perfect fit for this university. I have never been around a more relatable, genuine, caring, and hardworking coach. You deserve this. You have helped me out and helped me grow in so many ways. I am so thankful I get to play for you in your 1st year as a head coach.”
During his first two seasons running Riley’s offense, Mayfield twice earned Heisman Trophy consideration while leading the Sooners to a pair of 11-2 seasons, which included a berth in the College Football Playoff and a Sugar Bowl victory.
Mayfield has been the perfect executor of Riley’s fast-paced, high-octane offense. He led the nation in pass completion percentage (.706) and set a new NCAA mark for passing efficiency (193.79) for an offense that ranked second nationally in total offense (554.8 ypg) and third in scoring offense (43.9 ppg).
Meanwhile, Riley was the recipient of the 2015 Broyles Award — given to the nation's top assistant coach each year, and was already being touted as the next big star on the coaching landscape. Now, the Muleshoe, Texas, native will get to grow and nurture his talents at one of the top football programs in the country.
Sooner Spectator caught up with the busy head coach recently to see how things are going so far in his new job.
Sooner Spectator: You dove right into your new job without much warning and have basically been going full speed ever since. Have you had time to embrace the reality of being the head football coach at Oklahoma?
Lincoln Riley: It’s been such a busy time for us — I don’t know that it really has fully sunk in. I think it feels a little more normal each day, just with the responsibilities and everything you’re doing in this position. I’ve really tried not to look too much at the big picture right now — instead focusing on the day-to-day work and all of the things we need to do as a program to get ready for camp and the new season.
SS: When you arrived at OU two years ago, could you have imagined that you would find yourself in this position so soon and at the tender age of 33?
Riley: Of course, you always hope that you put yourself in a position to someday have an opportunity like this at some point in your career. You work hard for it and you dream about it, but I can’t say I expected to be at this point so quickly or at this age. It’s certainly something I am thankful for — and it’s definitely a situation that I feel like I can handle.
SS: What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far just settling into the new job and everything that goes with it?
Riley: I think probably the biggest challenges for me will come as we get closer to the season and even into the season. Time management is always going to be a challenge, so doing a good job with that is a big key. Fortunately, the people around me — the staff — are so good at what they do. From the assistant coaches to all of our support staff, they all do such great work here. We already had such a great working relationship, so having them here to help bridge the gap and make everything go that much smoother in the transition has been an enormous plus. I give them a lot of credit, and I our players have been great, as well. They have remained unified in everything we are doing and you can see that they are excited about moving forward. Coach Stoops has also helped in every way he can. It’s been a positive overall experience. They’ve helped make my job easier.
SS: What are some of the things you learned from Coach Stoops about being a head coach that helped prepare you for this?
Riley: Oh gosh, there has been a ton. I’d say just watching him during these last two years and how he handled the team. I learned so much about having the pulse of your team, your players and everyone around you — paying attention to details. It was a great learning experience to see how he dealt with so many different situations on and off the field. It’s a demanding job and he managed the program really, really well — and always did it with class. Over the last year, as our relationship grew, I was able to sit down with Coach at different times and just ask him questions about various things, and get his take on those things. He knew that I eventually wanted to be a head coach and he was always open and generous with his time and knowledge. He was an incredible resource for me and I’m forever thankful for that.
SS: You mentioned at the press conference that you were going to continue to call plays as the head coach. Is that something you see as a long-term deal or will you just see how it works and go from there?
Riley: I am comfortable with it and I see it as a long-term situation. I have a hard time seeing myself doing this job without calling the plays. I’ve always enjoyed that part of the game and I’ve always felt like that is a role I can make a difference with the team. And again, I have so much confidence in the people around me here and in their ability to help me in the areas that I need it most. So yes, when it comes to calling the plays on offense, I certainly plan on doing it for a while.
SS: What excites you most about this team and what it brings into the 2017 season?
Riley: Obviously, we have a number of guys back who have performed well for us here in the past, and you are always going to look to those guys for leadership and things like that. We definitely have a strong leadership core. But I’m also excited based on what we have seen from so many of our players during the spring and over the course of the offseason. I believe we have some good young talent, including some guys who are doing what they need to do to contribute in a big way for us. I like the vibe of the entire team right now. We have a good mix of experience and talented young guys, and we’re excited to see how they develop and what kind of players they become and what we can help them become.
SS: Coach Stoops was at OU for 18 seasons. With everything being such a whirlwind over the last few weeks, have you allowed yourself to look very far into the future and imagine where you might be 10 years from now?
Riley: Right now, it’s more about just staying in the moment and not getting ahead of yourself. I don’t think you can ever even begin to think about having a career like Coach Stoops had. This is all still new and there is enough of a battle and grind every day that you don’t have time to think about a whole lot other than the next step for this program. I’m just enjoying the process and feeling very appreciative to have an opportunity like this. I’m sure at some point in the future, you can allow yourself to sit down and reflect on things — but that’s down the road a ways for me.
(This interview appears in the 2017 Football Preview issue of Sooner Spectator. To read more or subscribe, call 405-364-4515)