Lincoln Riley leaving OU football for Southern Cal after five seasons as head coach

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NORMAN — Lincoln Riley’s tenure as OU's head coach came to a stunning end Sunday.

Less than 24 hours after the Sooners’ 37-33 loss to Oklahoma State in Stillwater, Riley informed the team that he was leaving the program to become the next head coach at USC, which confirmed the news Sunday night.

As news broke that Riley was leaving, players were summoned to a meeting where Riley officially informed the team of his intentions, and former Sooners coach Bob Stoops was introduced as the interim coach. Athletic director Joe Castiglione also addressed the team during the meeting.

Participants in the meeting, even those that had been around Riley for some time, were shocked at the news.

“I kept waiting for him to say, ‘Just kidding,’” one staffer said. “And he never did.”

Riley and OU agreed to a six-year contract extension in 2020. The contract carried an average annual value of more than $7.5 million.

OU will be owed a $4.5 buyout.

“I want to thank the administration, coaches and players at Oklahoma for five incredible years as their head coach," Riley said in a release. "We accomplished some great things there and I will always cherish my time as a Sooner.”

When Riley was elevated to take over for Stoops in 2017 after he spent two seasons as Stoops’ offensive coordinator, the succession move was immediate, with Stoops’ retirement and Riley’s elevation announced simultaneously.

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This time around, Castiglione embarks on the school’s first true coaching search since he hired Stoops in 1999 from the Florida defensive coordinator spot.

The Sooners were listless when Stoops arrived, having missed a bowl game four consecutive seasons and not having won 10 games in a season for 11 consecutive years.

Stoops quickly turned the program around, winning a national title in his second season and making a bowl game every year.

OU has won 10 or more games in 18 of the seasons since, including four of five since Riley took over as head coach, the only exception being last season’s 9-2 mark in a season that was shortened by two games due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Riley made the College Football Playoff in each of his first three seasons, losing in the semifinals each time.

The Sooners were in playoff contention this season until Saturday’s Bedlam loss.

Even with the program’s sustained success, OU is at a crossroads.

The Sooners are preparing to make the move to the Southeastern Conference, though a timetable for their departure from the Big 12 has not been set. The move will happen by 2025, though it’s widely anticipated it will happen before that, especially now that the Big 12 has officially announced the additions of BYU, Central Florida, Houston and Cincinnati.

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Riley’s move also comes at a critical time in recruiting, with Sunday opening the first day of in-home visits and the Dec. 15 signing period rapidly approaching.

That figures to have Castiglione moving quickly to make a hire.

The recruiting impact began Sunday night when Brandon Inniss, a five-star 2022 receiver from Florida, decommitted from the Sooners. Inniss had committed in August.

Five-star running back and OU target Raleek Brown is from Santa Ana, California, in the Los Angeles area.

It didn’t take long for Brown to react to the Riley news.

“Staying home?,” Brown tweeted, including a pair of emoji eyes.

The Trojans were in the running for Brown’s services until late in the process, before he ultimately chose the Sooners in February.

OU’s 2023 class figures to make a large shift as well, with five-star quarterback Malachi Nelson heading that class, which is currently ranked No. 1 by Rivals. A pair of Nelson’s high school receivers — Deandre Moore and Makai Lemon, both four-star prospects — are also committed to the Sooners.

It’s not just recruits that will have to be convinced to stay, though.

The NCAA’s new one-time transfer rules make it much easier for players to leave a program and play immediately.

That could include freshman quarterback Caleb Williams, who came to Norman looking to become the next great quarterback to study under Riley, following behind Heisman winners Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray and runner-up Jalen Hurts.

Williams took over as the starter early this season, throwing for 1,670 yards and 18 touchdowns with four interceptions and rushing for 408 yards and six scores.

“I appreciate all the concerns about the situation but I am also happy for Coach Riley, mama Riley, Sloan and Stella for that huge opportunity ahead,” Williams tweeted Sunday evening. “That’s all I plan to say right now!”

'We had plenty of opportunities': Sooners left wondering 'what if' and 'what's next' after Bedlam loss

OU coach Lincoln Riley yells during a 37-33 loss to OSU on Saturday night in Stillwater. Riley is set to leave OU for Southern Cal.
OU coach Lincoln Riley yells during a 37-33 loss to OSU on Saturday night in Stillwater. Riley is set to leave OU for Southern Cal.

Riley joined the Sooners in 2015 after Stoops looked to revamp an OU offense that had grown stagnant. Stoops fired co-offensive coordinators Josh Heupel and Jay Norvell, and plucked Riley from East Carolina, where he’d spent five seasons as offensive coordinator.

Riley quickly made the Sooners’ the most potent offense in college football, with Mayfield leading the charge at quarterback.

After two seasons as offensive coordinator, Stoops stepped down in the summer of 2017, giving way to Riley.

Mayfield won the Heisman in Riley’s first season as head coach, then Murray followed up with his own Heisman win the next season.

Both were taken first overall in the NFL Draft.

In 2019, Hurts finished as runner-up.

After some growing pains as a freshman last year, Spencer Rattler entered this season as the Las Vegas favorite to win the Heisman.

But the Sooners’ offense was uneven out of the gate, and early in the Red River Showdown against Texas in early October, Williams took over.

OU won its first nine games — five by a touchdown or less — before falling at Baylor, 27-14, on Nov. 13.

After Saturday’s Bedlam loss, Riley was asked about the swirling reports he was in line to be the next coach at LSU.

“I’m not going to be the next head coach at LSU,” Riley said. “Next question.”

Riley answered a follow-up by saying he was happy working with the OU administration, including Castiglione and school president Joseph Harroz.

“All of us are trying to make this place better and make this program better,” Riley said. “You don’t do that without working together, conversing with each other, so of course we’re going to continue to do it. We work well together and we’re going to continue to work well together.”

Less than 24 hours later, Riley was heading to USC.

This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: OU football: Lincoln Riley set to take USC coaching job

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