LOS ANGELES — Lincoln Riley’s meteoric rise has been a bit surreal, even for Riley himself.
Not even x years ago, he was living in Greenville, North Carolina, and working equally E Carolina’southward offensive coordinator. Fast forward to now, and the 38-yr-erstwhile Riley makes his home in Hollywood (Palos Verdes, to be exact) and is inbound his first yr as head coach at USC, one of the almost tradition-rich programs in college football and yet one of the more underachieving teams for much of the by decade.
That’due south why Riley is USC’s fourth head coach in the past 10 years and at least function of the reason he left another Rolls-Royce of higher football, Oklahoma, to accept on the challenge of restoring the Trojans to their by glory.
In v seasons at OU, Riley won 4 Large 12 championships and led the Sooners to the College Football Playoff iii times. But when USC chosen last Nov, he decided to make the move west.
Riley sat downwardly with ESPN this week for a wide-ranging conversation that covered his get out from Oklahoma, how the Sooners’ impending move to the SEC impacted his decision, the Trojans loading up in the transfer portal, the future of higher football in general and his conventionalities that USC will benefit equally much as anybody from the new world of proper noun, image and likeness.
There were a lot of difficult feelings amidst Oklahoma fans when you left, especially so abruptly. Do you lot understand their angst?
There’due south no piece of cake way to leave jobs like that, unless yous retire in them. They’re either going to forcefulness you lot out because you’re non winning or you practice something wrong, or you’re going to have another job and they’re non going to exist happy about information technology. I hateful, I’ve been coaching for a niggling bit now, but I’ve never obviously been in a transition like this.
Information technology wouldn’t have changed my decision, merely are there things along the way that I could have done better throughout the transition? It was not going to be shine, but maybe polish it out a little bit? Yes, there is when I expect dorsum. But at the end of the day, it was going to exist an emotionally charged determination for a lot of people on the periphery of it.
Were you ever involved at all in the LSU job search?
No, and I’ve told people this all the time. I learned this from Mike Leach, and he probably still says it. You’re on 1 of two lists equally a head jitney. You’re on a list to go fired or you’re on a list of other people wanting to hire you. And he’s right. I never had ane year at Oklahoma where people didn’t call in-season. I never subjected myself to it. It’due south never rocked me. It’s never had anything to do with me doing my task. I’ve taken ane phone phone call in seven years at OU, and it was the USC telephone call later on the Oklahoma Country game. That’southward the simply phone call I’ve e’er taken — ever. I didn’t accept one NFL call. I didn’t have any of them.
When you say y’all didn’t take any calls, they’re calling your amanuensis, correct?
Yes, 100 percent. But that’s why you lot have an agent, why you accept that buffer, because you tin can’t control when the phone’southward going to ring, but you take a job to do in those moments. I always felt like I was able to stay focused on the job at manus. Nobody ever said a word about it when the NFL teams were calling, and we were winning a bunch. I’m a professional. I’m going to practice the chore I’m assigned to do. Plus, peculiarly now, at that place are no secrets. If I would take engaged with those guys earlier [the season ended], people would’ve known. And, again, the people that know me know I would never do that.
When you heard Bob Stoops say recently that Lincoln Riley didn’t invent OU football (and Stoops added that he didn’t, either), what went through your heed?
I’ve talked to [Stoops] since I took the chore. He’s an OU guy, and I understand that. But he too listened and got very close several times with other schools when he was at OU. My timeline and all that was different, and he’s told me that if he had to make a decision on a unlike day, things might have turned out differently for him. You never know. They’re hard decisions to make.
I’m sure you heard critics claiming that part of your rationale for leaving was that you lot were running from the grind of the SEC with Oklahoma’s impending move to the SEC.
Oh yeah, I knew that was out there. Football is football. I wasn’t running from the SEC. I was running to USC. That’southward probably the best fashion I could reply that.
Growing upwardly in Texas, how did you lot view USC football game when yous were younger and how will this challenge exist dissimilar from what you lot faced at Oklahoma?
It’southward such a unlike opportunity than the one I had at OU, and I wouldn’t alter anything about the 1 at OU, especially for a beginning-fourth dimension head coach. In that location were some advantages of taking over 1 like that and some advantages of taking over one similar this. Just one of my biggest memories when I was younger, junior high and high school when I was already a big college football fan, was watching a game out here on a Saturday nighttime in the Coliseum on a Idiot box screen in Muleshoe, Texas. I don’t know how to describe it, just the energy and getting the feeling that it was different than watching football anywhere else. At that place are a lot of other great places in our sport, just they’re all more similar than they are dissimilar. This one, there was something dissimilar about it, and that’south what captured people during their heyday. I know information technology did me.
What was the biggest allure for you to the USC task?
Every coach in any job is going to look at what kind of roster do they think they can build, and I don’t think anywhere is positioned similar this identify is to build an elite roster. Well-nigh of college football fits into small market place, average-to-skilful academics and so your varying degrees of different programs. The combination here of the elite academics and you’ve got a proven football history — it’s been done here — and then that big Fifty.A. market, all of that … I just don’t know of anywhere else that has those three.
Coaches talk about timing all the fourth dimension when they change jobs. Was that a cistron for you?
You’re kind of catching the program hither at a humble signal, and I besides think only looking dorsum at history, and you tin can debate the number, but when you talk about the 6 or 7 greatest college football game programs of all time and report their history, what makes them the greatest college football programs of all time doesn’t mean that they don’t have dips, only they don’t accept many of them. And and so when they do take 1, they typically, history would say, come back with a forcefulness. That’south what makes them great, and this is one of those places.
In a market the size of 50.A., how beneficial volition that be for USC in the NIL earth?
I know what we’ll practise to build a roster, and I know what we won’t do to build a roster. I know we will recruit our tails off. I know we’ll run a offset-class program, and you know Cypher is going to be a gene going forrard. Nosotros’re at a identify that you lot know can position your guys to exist able to capitalize off that, and there are so many different routes to capitalize off information technology in LA. Y’all’re talking about things for guys that tin can be long-term things. This isn’t but similar a minor machine dealership in a pocket-sized-market town. You’re talking well-nigh doing deals with major, major entities, especially for guys that have a chance to play in the NFL, that could exist 20-year arrangements.
Do y’all believe some of the Zilch fiscal numbers that are being thrown out in that location for some players, especially those still in high schoolhouse in states like California where loftier schoolhouse players are immune to accept money?
There’s just and so few restrictions correct now. I do believe there’s a lot of propaganda out there now when you hear some of these figures. A lot of it’s not true.
Do yous envision any structure in the way Naught is implemented in the virtually future, particularly its usage as a recruiting inducement?
You look at all these collectives right at present and all this stuff going on. The NCAA has come out and said they’re going to attempt to enforce some of this, continue boosters out of it. Merely nobody knows. Yous talk to 10 different people and you lot’re going to become ten unlike opinions. Nobody knows where that thing is headed. For us, that’due south kind of our ace in the hole. What do we know correct now? Zero is a legal matter for guys once they’re on the football team and once they’re enrolled in the academy. We know that. That ain’t irresolute. I don’t know what all is going to happen with all that other stuff, and nobody else does either.
The transfer portal has created its share of chaos, and in that location was a report you guys may have tampered with Hashemite kingdom of jordan Addison before he got into the portal. Is at that place anything to that?
No, and a lot of that comes with the nature of the portal. Go dorsum to Caleb [Williams] when he left OU. Everybody idea that was a done deal. Shoot, in that location’s nonetheless and so much new about this that he’due south got to go through, that his family has to go through, a unlike location, a different league, a different staff, unlike teammates. They were thorough in their procedure merely like they were in high school, and guys like Caleb and Jordan see the bigger picture show and see the advantages of this.
There’s a short-term game, simply there’s also a long-term game. They felt like they could play both here, and we were hardly the only school Jordan was interested in. There were several, and what I can tell y’all is there was no tampering on our function.
What volition an law-breaking with Williams throwing to Addison look like?
We’ve had a great run of wideouts and guys that have produced, so bringing somebody with Hashemite kingdom of jordan’s skill level in is exciting, and I think he can get a lot better as a player as well. Just that combination could be something, and I think Jordan would tell you that was a big factor in him wanting to come here. That’s smart.
I was a wide receivers coach when I started. Playing wideout is a dependent position. The brawl only gets to your easily by blueprint and the right guy throwing information technology to you. So, yeah, yous’re talking about two extremely talented players, and we’ve got other weapons too. If people are going to throw a lot of attention at Jordan, we’ve got a lot of guys who volition be able to hurt people.
You’ve had tons of success with transfers — Kyler Murray, Baker Mayfield and Jalen Hurts to proper name a few. How much faster tin yous get it turned effectually at USC considering of the transfer portal?
When we got the chore, we started hearing from players immediately, shockingly fast. We’re going to wind up in the depression 20s in number of transfers this year. And then you lot’re probably doing two years’ worth of work probably twice equally fast as you previously could. A couple of years agone, you’re taking a bunch of fliers and you’re taking peradventure some junior college guys. Juco was your aggressive road to go the older guy. Information technology was very clear to us later beingness hither for a day that transfers were going to be the manner to build this in the beginning.
The Pac-12 hasn’t had a team in the College Football Playoff since 2017 when Washington lost in the semifinals to Alabama. Where does USC fit into that equation if the Pac-12 is going to exist relevant again?
To me, the biggest difference in this league and the other leagues is the flagship school is not playing like it. If OU had been down the last 10 years, what is the perception of the Big 12 right at present? Take Clemson out of the ACC or Ohio Country out of the Big 10. Even every bit proficient equally the SEC has been, let’southward say Alabama had been down the last 10 years — the betoken existence leagues cannot survive if your flagship squad is downwards. They can’t prosper if their flagship teams aren’t playing similar information technology.
Exercise yous agree with several of your coaching peers that a pause in higher football is inevitable where a certain number of teams play in their own division with their own rules and their own commissioner/president?
It certain feels like information technology, and I think the most important thing is we’ve got to go one person in charge, ane phonation. That’s where higher football has messed up, because information technology’s a cracking sport, just phenomenal, and there’s style more than expert about it than bad. But the fact that some take gone left and some have gone right is what makes it so hard, just our alignment. We’ve got to all go in the same direction, and nosotros haven’t. That’south what has injure us, non having that 1 stiff vox that when we make a decision on the direction we’re going, that’s the direction nosotros’re going.
What’southward your take on playoff expansion?
I recall nosotros need to aggrandize. My matter is that the leagues are and then different twelvemonth in and twelvemonth out that the conference champions have to be in. It’due south crazy to think that we have a sport that yous can win your league and non be in the playoff. It makes no sense. We’re trying to compare teams that haven’t played each other or like opponents. The league formats are unlike. The playoff committee correct at present has an incommunicable job, and we’ve put them in that position.