USC hires coach Lincoln Riley away from Oklahoma
Southern California desperately wanted a head coach after more than a decade of underachievement and embarrassment.
Trojans have landed on one of the biggest and brightest names in the game.
The University of Southern California hired Lincoln Riley of Oklahoma on Sunday in a stunning and rare move from a traditional college football team that beat out another highly accomplished coach.
Riley went from 55 to 10 in five seasons leading the Sooners, won four major titles in 12, and featured in three football playoffs in his first coaching job. The 38-year-old USC Texans sold the chance to return the Trojans to their glory days as an annual competitor for the National Championship and premiere program for the West Coast.
“USC has an unparalleled football tradition with tremendous resources and facilities, and management has been deeply committed to winning,” Riley said in a statement. “I look forward to honoring and building on this successful tradition. The pieces are ready for us to bring the show back to where it should be and fans expect it to be.”
Riley “will be transferring immediately to USC,” according to the school’s statement. Interim coach Dontey Williams will lead the Trojans (4-7, 3-5 Pac 12) into the season finale in California on Saturday night.
The school announced that Bob Stubbs will return as Oklahoma’s interim head coach to lead the Sooners in the bowl game. Riley took charge of the program in 2017 when the Stoops retired, and the Sooners have dominated the Big 12 in the half decade since.
“Leaving OU was probably the hardest decision of my life,” Riley said. “OU is one of the best college football programs in the country, and it’s been forever. That won’t change. It won’t change at the SEC, it won’t change with another head coach. It has stood the test of time and will continue to do so. This was a personal decision based solely on my desire to take on a new challenge, and I felt it was the right opportunity for me and my family to do so.”
USC fired Clay Hilton in September after the second game of his seventh season in office, and the school was looking for a game-changing head coach to revive a program that had had little success since a period of dominance during the 2000s under Pete Carroll. It included two national titles.
Since Carroll left for the Seattle Seahawks in late 2009, the Trojans have struggled under three former assistants to Carol and Hilton, who brought stability and professionalism to USC, but not enough success on the field as they go from 46 to 24. With one game remaining , USC is 87-48 with one Pac-12 title, one Rose Bowl victory and no College Football Playoff anchors in 12 years under Lynne Kevin, Ed Orgeron, Steve Sarkissian, Hilton and Williams.
The Trojans have been a sleeping giant on the college football scene for more than a decade – and Riley is expected to wake them up.
After contacting several of the leading candidates for jobs in this recruitment cycle, USC athletic director Mike Boone was able to come up with a name more impressive than all of his fans could have imagined.
“His attacking successes and awards as head coach over the past five years have been amazing,” Boone said of Riley. “Lincoln will relentlessly recruit, develop his players on and off the field, and implement a strong culture in which the program operates with the highest level of integrity and professionalism. Lincoln is regarded globally as one of the brightest and most talented football coaches in the country, and the fact that he chose USC is a testament to the strength of our brand and the strength of a family Troy and the leadership of our university.”
Riley was the offensive coordinator for Oklahoma when he was named the successor to Stubbs, who led the Sooners to 190 wins and a National Championship in 17 seasons. The Sooners have had their conference since the move, with Riley spawning two Heisman award-winning quarterbacks—Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray—and some of the most widespread offenses in college football history.
While Riley doesn’t have much ties to the West Coast, he has recruited well in talent-rich areas of California. The Sooners currently have several commitments from elite California high school students during their next two enlistment semesters.
Riley led the Sooners to another 10-win season this year, but Oklahoma’s 12th big title streak vanished when the Sooners narrowly lost (10-2) to Oklahoma State on Saturday night. With Oklahoma out of contention for the College Football Playoff Championship, USC plunged into the competition.
Rumors linking Riley to the opening at LSU had been going on for several weeks, but he dropped it after the Oklahoma State game.
“I won’t be the next coach at LSU,” he said. Next question.
He didn’t say anything about USC.
The last major coach to make such a seismic move was Jimbo Fisher, who left Florida for a guaranteed 10-year contract at Texas A&M at the end of the 2017 season. Riley was already making more than $7 million a year at Norman, so he’s likely to be Has received a significant increase of USC boosters.
Oklahoma will have to conduct its first search for its coach since 1999 when the school hired Stoops, who is due to be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame next week.
“First of all I am a software guy and everything I can do to help the OU and support the players, of course I am happy to do it. I will do everything I can to help they finish the season in a strong and successful way and I am looking forward to that,” said Stubbs.
Riley is the first coach in the OU to leave for another job since Jim Tatum left for Maryland after the 1946 season — but the Sooners hired Bud Wilkinson and he became a dynasty.
Joe Castiglione, OU athletic director, said: “Oklahoma is one of the nation’s premier football programs and jobs. Our rich history, annual pursuit of national conferences and leagues, tremendous fan support, beautiful facilities and quality of life all make this a great place to recruit and train, And we have begun the search for our next great leader.”
The new leadership will be another big change coming in Oklahoma, which is moving into the Southeast Conference along with Texas. This move is currently set for 2025, but may come very soon.
The Trojans still have one game left to play this season, and they must beat the Golden Bears to avoid their first eight-loss season since 1991. Riley will already be in business to recruit the next class of talented elites at a school whose recruiting successes have been inconsistent under Hilton drive.
Williams, Hilton’s coach and chief recruiter, moved 3-6 as interim coach alongside offensive coordinator Graham Harrell and defense coordinator Todd Orlando. Coincidentally, both Harrell and Riley were both former Texas Tech teams that played Mike Leach in the Red Raiders’ Air Raid attack.
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