With the shocking retirement of Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops on Wednesday comes the opportunity of a lifetime for Lincoln Riley.
To fill the void of Stoops’ departure, Riley, just 33 years old, became the 22nd head coach in Oklahoma history, capping off a meteoric rise up the coaching ranks over the past decade.
Riley, now the youngest FBS head coach in the country, isn’t some new name — but he has huge shoes to fill. Stoops, who spent 18 seasons leading the Sooners, has the utmost confidence in Riley.
“I feel the timing is perfect to hand over the reins,” Stoops said. “The program is in tremendous shape. We have outstanding players and coaches and are poised to make another run at a Big 12 and national championship. We have new state-of-the-art facilities and a great start on next year’s recruiting class.
“The time is now because Lincoln Riley will provide a seamless transition as the new head coach, capitalizing on an excellent staff that is already in place and providing familiarity and confidence for our players.”
As Stoops alluded to, Riley knows the terrain in Norman well. He served as Stoops’ offensive coordinator at OU for the past two seasons, helping the Sooners put up huge numbers en route to back-to-back Big 12 titles. Under Riley’s watch, the Sooners were second in the country in total offense (554.8 yards per game) in 2016, third in scoring offense (43.9 ppg) and first in passing efficiency and pass completion percentage. That production built off a big 2015 campaign when Riley took home the Broyles Award, which is given to the nation’s top assistant.
During that time, he helped mold Baker Mayfield into one of the nation’s top quarterbacks. Mayfield, a 2016 Heisman finalist, returns in 2017 for one last go-around in Riley’s up-tempo spread system.
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“I’m sincerely honored to be given this opportunity to be the head football coach at the University of Oklahoma,” Riley said. I want to thank Coach Stoops for bringing me here two years ago and making me part of the Sooner family. He is one of the greatest coaches in the history of the game, at any level. I’m absolutely thankful for our friendship and for the mentorship he has provided.
“Coaching at Oklahoma is a dream come true for me and my family. I am extremely grateful to President Boren, Joe Castiglione, Chairman Bennett and the OU Board of Regents for believing in me and affording me this opportunity. I look forward to continuing the tradition of excellence that Coach Stoops and so many others before him have instilled in this great program.”
Before he landed in Norman, Riley spent five seasons as the offensive coordinator at East Carolina. Riley is actually a disciple of Mike Leach’s air raid system at Texas Tech. He was a walk-on quarterback for the Red Raiders for a season before joining Leach’s staff as a student assistant. He quickly worked his way up the ranks from student assistant to graduate assistant to receivers coach by the time he was 24 years old. And when Leach was fired, Riley even called plays for the Red Raiders in the 2010 Alamo Bowl at age 26.
After Leach’s removal, Riley followed Red Raiders assistant Ruffin McNeill to East Carolina, McNeill’s alma mater, where McNeill was named head coach. Riley again moved up the ranks, ascending from Texas Tech receivers coach to offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at East Carolina.
The appointment made Riley the youngest coordinator in the FBS, and his offenses quickly took hold of the school’s record books. Four of Riley’s five seasons at ECU are the top four in program history in terms of total yardage, including a whopping 6,929 in 2014. Overall, ECU set more than 50 team or individual school records on offense under Riley’s tutelage.
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Riley’s success at Oklahoma has made him an attractive coaching candidate across the country in recent years. According to Fox Sports’ Bruce Feldman, Riley had opportunities at Purdue, USF, Cincinnati, Houston and others, but turned them down to remain with the Sooners. In May, Riley’s success and loyalty were rewarded with a raise and contract extension through the 2019 season.
“I am thrilled that Lincoln Riley is in position to take over as the head coach,” OU athletic director Joe Castiglione said. “He is widely regarded as one of the brightest minds in college football and there is no question in my mind that he is the complete package. Our program is in very good hands. Lincoln and I have a great relationship and I can’t wait to embark on this new era with him. I am sure our fans share my enthusiasm. We celebrate a tremendous legacy today and because of what Bob did here and the coach we have identified, we look forward to our future with great optimism.”
Riley takes over a team that ranks among the country’s best heading into the 2017 team (and is ranked No. 5 in our most recent preseason Top 25). Though Mayfield is back, Riley has the challenge of replacing offensive stars like Dede Westbrook, Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon.
The team has a ton of talent on both sides of the ball, but will have rival Oklahoma State nipping at its heels in the Big 12. And instead of having the experienced Stoops patrolling the sideline, the Sooners are in the hands of a first-time head coach.
For more Oklahoma news, visit SoonerScoop.com.
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