Lincoln Riley Leaves OU


Nikita Erdmann Morris

Oklahoma University (OU) is falling apart after former head coach Lincoln Riley left. On November 28, 2021, Riley was on a call with the USC coaching staff when he announced his decision to leave Oklahoma University to pursue the head coaching job at the University of Southern California (USC). After five seasons with a record of 55-10, four Big-12 championships, and three appearances in the playoff semi-finals Riley called it quits. Some may wonder why Riley left all this success for a lower ranked USC team? Well the first reason is he wanted a “new challenge”. USC was 4-8 last season which should be a big enough challenge for Riley. He also wants a new environment for his family which makes sense considering that USC is in California. In addition, Riley has a lot of success in the Pac-12, as listed before, which formulates an assumption about why he “actually” wanted to leave. 

Oklahoma University has come out and said that they want to join the Southeastern Conference (SEC) in 2025. Stats have shown that Lincoln Riley is 1-3 against SEC teams which seem suspicious during this time, but he has denied that that was a reason for his departure. It’s interesting to think that Riley would leave a stacked OU team for one that only has one Pac-12 title, but this move has lots of potential. Lincoln Riley was asked in an interview, after losing to Oklahoma State University, if he will be leave to coach for Louisiana State University (LSU).  To this, he responded, “I’m not going to be the next head coach at LSU”. Although this was true, him deciding on USC just days later has left a scar on OU that won’t be easily fixed. 

The program has had their ups and downs, but everyone was fond of Riley. The players liked him as well as the organization and recruits. After Riley left, his former assistant coach Roy Manning may be coming with him. It was presumed that Manning was secretly recruiting for USC right around Riley’s decision on leaving OU. This is shocking news for Oklahoma because some of their recruits were considering USC while visiting the campus. With that being said, Riley has stated he wants to focus on recruiting and building a championship team when he gets to USC. This task seems to be perfect for Riley since he produced two Heisman winners: Baker Mayfield (2016-2017) and Kyler Murray (2018). Riley is also ranked number three amongst all coaches, according to a CBS Sports poll.

This was only the beginning of a landslide for Oklahoma. The top player in the nation, Malachi Nelson (QB), has announced his decommitment from OU just hours after Riley took the USC position. This was followed by three more decommitments from 5-star prospects: Brandon Inniss (WR), Raleek Brown (RB), and Makai Lemon (WR). There have also been four recommitments from 4-star prospects: Treyaun Webb (RB), Kobe McKinzie (LB), Derrick Moore (DL), and Demetrius “Pancake” Hunter (OL). This is horrible for Oklahoma because now they are down 8 top star recruits, and many other players are questioning their future with the team. To make matters worse, the recruits are now showing interests in universities such as USC, Texas A&M, Texas, and more. 

Malachi Nelson is rumored to be talking to Riley at USC which is ironic since Nelson lives in Southern California. The Athletic has stated, “Every Oklahoma player and recruit is watching and waiting to see what happens next. The new head coaching hire will need to be made as soon as possible because of the early signing period that looms Dec. 15.” With that being said, Oklahoma needs a head coach to defuse these situations. 

Bob Stoops was named the interim head coach for the time being which was a sigh of relief for Oklahoma. Stoops was the head coach at OU from 1999-2016, so the organization knows and has a soft spot for him. He has won a National Title and 190 games which makes one of the top three coaches in the OU Hall of Fame. Even after his head coaching career ended, he stayed on the coaching staff after Riley took over as the assistant. With all the commotion surrounding the team, Stoops said, “It’s OK. You’re the ones who are going to make all the plays or not make the plays. You guys win and lose. You’re OU football. He isn’t. I’m not. And any other coach who comes here isn’t. OU football has been here a long time. And it isn’t going anywhere else. It’s going to be here and it’s going to be at the top of college football and it’s going to continue that way.” 

After a week or so on, December 5th, OU announced that Brent Venables will be the new head coach of the Oklahoma Sooners. The President, Joe Harraz, and Athletic Director, Joe Castilione, have said that they are confident in finding a great coach for the program which they achieved. This has definitely lifted some weight off of OU’s back because they can finally talk to recruits and have a solid coach to back up their promises.

However, even with a great coach like Venables in the mix, how will OU do for the rest of the season? For those who don’t know, Brent Venables was the defensive coordinator and linebackers coach for Clemson University from 2012-2021. 

He has helped coach in eight National Championship games (of which he won two), has been to 29 bowl games, and has helped Clemson’s defense put up dominating numbers throughout the years. In 2020, Clemson’s defense ended with 46 sacks which was tied first in the nation. In 2019, the first 12 games that were played produced outstanding stats from the defense; they didn’t allow their opponents to get over 300 offensive yards (passing or rushing). This is a challenging task to do in general, but for 12 consecutive games, that’s unbelievable. The season prior to that, Clemson kept their opponents to 20 or fewer points for 16 consecutive games. They also led the nation in defensive scoring with 13.1 points per game. With all his success, Oklahoma is a new team with a different environment than Clemson. It will most definitely be a hard transition, but Venables is confident in his ability to bring the program around and continue the legacy that is Sooners football.

Even with a new head coach, current players have been struggling before the coaching adjustments. Spencer Rattler, who committed to OU in 2019, has entered the transfer portal in hopes of finding a better fit for him. Last season, his freshman year, he put up excellent stats that put him in the running to become a Heisman candidate. Rattler had a whopping 3,031 yards with a 67.5% completion percentage. He also threw for 28 touchdowns and averaged 9.6 yards per drive. However, during this past season, Rattler has been on the bench as a backup to Caleb Williams, who is a freshman. 

The rookie had become a promising piece in the offense as the season went on. This transition came to the point where fans loved Williams so much that every time Rattler stepped on the field they would boo him and chant for Williams to be put in. Although this may seem good for Williams, he is now questioning being at OU as well. Just like Rattler, Williams is considering entering the transfer portal to better his career and escape the unknowing fate of OU. Even though Venables is the head coach, Williams isn’t sure if he should stay or go. It is said that securing Williams will project that OU football is “back and better than ever”. This is why Venables is talking to him and his family to assure them that OU is the place to be.

Straying away from OU, USC has put up pretty average stats this season. For offensive passing yards they have a total of 3,580 among the three quarterbacks, and for rushing yards, they have 1,749 between nine players. On the defensive side, they have a total of 725 tackles, 21.0 sacks, 14 interceptions, and one touchdown. For people who don’t understand football, these stats aren’t that great for a team that’s played 12 games. A powerhouse. like Alabama and Georgia, would have double or even triple these numbers. However, with the help of Lincoln Riley and the rest of the USC staff, the Trojans are looking to be a top team in the Pac-12 South Division.