Bob Stoops stunned the college football world Wednesday, retiring as head coach at Oklahoma after 18 seasons. Offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley has been named Stoops’ replacement, and at 33, is the youngest head coach in FBS.
It was a sharp and sudden change for a program that has been one of the nation’s best for the last two decades.
“It was sudden,” Riley said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “I don’t know how long it had been on his mind. I think that’s a little bit more to him, but we’ve had a lot of talks over the last few years. He knew I wanted to be a head coach and knew I wanted to learn from him and be able to bounce things off him. So a lot of great talks. But you just never even imagine something like this. We had a visit a few days before and I knew there was a chance that might be possible, and yeah, each visit got a little bit more serious. I found out officially three or four hours before we had the press conference. So when it happened, it happened quickly.”
Riley, who arrived Norman in 2015, has transformed Oklahoma into an offensive juggernaut. The Sooners ranked second in the nation in total offense last season, and Riley will remain heavily involved on that side of the ball.
“I will,” Riley said. “I will. I’m still going to call the plays. I’m still going to coach our quarterbacks and take on the same big roles. I think there will be some other roles day-to-day that I’ve got to be able to delegate. I feel like right now I can delegate some of that, but I still feel like being involved as far as coaching quarterbacks and calling plays is going to be the best thing for this program.”
It’ll be interesting to see how Oklahoma players adjust to playing for Coach Riley as opposed to Coach Stoops.
“I think it’ll be different for different players,” Riley said. “All the offensive guys here I was obviously with a little bit more day-to-day. The defensive guys, I’ve always had a pretty strong relationship with those guys and always tried to look at it as a team deal. And then you’ve got the group of newcomers who just got here. In a sense, their world’s turned upside down (coming from high school to college) and all of a sudden these changes are made. So I think it’s probably different points for different players.”
Riley, to his credit, was humble in his first address to the team.
“Coach (Stoops) spoke to the team and then I grabbed them just by myself,” Riley said. “I told them, ‘Look, I realize none of you guys came here to play for me as the head coach. I can’t force that upon you. That’s a choice that you’re going to have to make. All I can do is be the best I can be for you and show you that I am deserving and am ready to do a great job for you. But I don’t want you to feel like you owe me that. You don’t owe me anything. I’ve got to go earn it just like everybody in this program has to go work for everything that they get.’ That’s kind of been the nature of this program all along, so I don’t think it should be any different for me as the head coach.”
Oklahoma, which has finished 11-2 in three of the last four years, hopes to return to the College Football Playoff this season. The Sooners also hope to avoid negative headlines for off-field behavior.
Joe Mixon, of course, has been a controversial figure in recent months, while Baker Mayfield was arrested in February for public intoxication and resisting arrest.
“There’s issues (at) a lot of places, and it’s a hot topic right now,” Riley said. “It’s an important topic for us. There has to be just a large focus on the development of the human being. Not the football player, not anything physical, but just completely the human being. We’re going to invest a lot of time, a lot of resources, in that. We’ve got to understand that these guys are kids and it’s different than when we all grew up. It’s not an excuse; it’s just reality. We’ve got to teach them right from wrong. They’ve got to understand that this world has changed so much, and with social media, second chances – in a lot of instances – aren’t really part of the deal anymore. Everybody wants to rush to judgement. That’s part of the world we live in. I think you’ve got to educate them to that, you’ve got to teach them, they’ve got to understand it, and they’ve got to adapt. It’s part of our job as coaches to get that done.”
Oklahoma opens the 2017 season at home against UTEP on Sept. 2, before a trip to Columbus to take on Ohio State on Sept. 9. The Buckeyes beat the Sooners, 45-22, in Norman last year.