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Oklahoma football coach Lincoln Riley is a candidate to be LSU’s next football coach. In the end, he may not want to leave Oklahoma for the job. But it could happen.
And Riley clearly is not as adamant about staying at Oklahoma as LSU target Jimbo Fisher is about staying at Texas A&M. “I ain’t going,” Fisher said Monday.
Riley gave the perfect answer on Tuesday for someone who may take another job soon. He didn’t answer the question. He talked around it and sounded like he had been thoroughly briefed by a mega corporate media coach.
“There’s nothing to handle,” he said when asked about reports that he could be a candidate at LSU. “It’s pretty easy. I coach the University of Oklahoma football team.”
Uh, you were not asked what team you are coaching.
“You guys know me. You know how I feel about this place and this program,” he said.
True statement. But coaches and people outside coaching leave places and companies they love for new jobs all the time when that new job is a great opportunity or just something different. That plays more of a role than you might think. People like to move. Wanderlust is a good thing here and there.
“We’ve all been down this road many times before,” he said.
This is true. Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones had some interest in Riley becoming his head coach after the 2019 season before going with Mike McCarthy. Riley was considered a candidate for the Philadelphia Eagles job after the 2020 season before they hired Nick Sirianni. And he was considered a candidate to be the Cleveland Browns coach in 2018 before they hired Freddie Kitchens entering the 2019 season.
Riley’s next job may be in the NFL.
His answer, though, had nothing to do with going down a road now, particularly if this road leads to Nicholson Drive in Baton Rouge, where Tiger Stadium is located.
“You guys know where I stand on this, and that hasn’t changed,” he concluded.
Smartly vague, as it could change soon. Skilled display by Riley. He didn’t just say, “No comment,” which would have opened the door for more conjecture than there is now. He also propped up his current employer.
He stayed general. He obviously is used to this drill. He didn’t make the mistake an equally well-drilled Nick Saban made when the then-Miami Dolphins coach went super specific in December of 2006 and said, “I’m not going to be the Alabama coach,” and then was the Alabama coach in January of 2007.
The Riley hire may have already been made by LSU verbally, for LSU athletic director Scott Woodward is as stealth and smart as they come. And he’s really good at spending other people’s money. Riley will cost a lot, as he is the No. 5 highest paid college football coach in the nation at $8.05 million with a contract that goes through 2025.
And Riley was not so smart on Tuesday, Nov. 9. He missed practice on what is the most important preparation day before a game.
“Personal matter. Nothing to do with my job or football,” he tried to explain. “Dealt with it, didn’t take away from our preparation.”
Sure looked like it, though. Oklahoma was then upset, 27-14, by Baylor as Riley’s offense turned in a season-low points and season-low yards with 260 against former LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda’s team to fall to 9-1. Riley’s offense was averaging 477 yards a game for No. 11 in the nation and 40 points a game for No. 8.
So, where was Riley a week ago Tuesday? Maybe he was not at a clandestine LSU or USC interview at a secure location, but it seems awfully suspicious. And there are a lot of vast open spaces in Oklahoma.
If he did meet with Woodward that day, it reminds me of LSU football coach Bill Arnsparger interviewing for the Florida athletic director job during the week of the Tigers’ 1986 season opener against Texas A&M. Arnsparger did it right, though. His team won the following Saturday — 35-17 over the No. 7 Aggies. Then he took the Florida job after the season.
If it happens, and this looks like something Woodward could pull off, Riley would be a fantastic, home run hire for LSU. Some say Riley is the most innovative offensive mind in the game.
I would prefer Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin, but LSU is not interested because it wants a squeaky clean hire. This is wise considering the Tigers’ poor culture illustrated by the reports and investigations over the last year and a half of LSU covering up and enabling alleged sexual assaults by former players Derrius Guice and Drake Davis as well as alleged sexual misconduct by former coach Les Miles.
Kiffin, 46, was wild child at one point. But he has grown up, and he is a great, balanced coach who is an offensive genius and the son of a defensive genius. LSU should have fired some of its own people involved in its various cover-ups and enabling instead of passing judgment on a possible great new hire.
But if not Kiffin, Riley is the man. Only 38, but mature. He would be great.
Riley, like Kiffin or Fisher, would also be LSU’s first ever head coaching hire of a true offensive coordinator based on passing and being progressive. Gerry DiNardo and Miles had been offensive coordinators before they were head coaches at Vanderbilt and Oklahoma State, respectively, but they were offensive line coaches and offensive coordinators based on the run and not progressive at all. Orgeron had a defensive background, but he was never a coordinator.
Riley would recruit great or very good quarterbacks routinely. Riley would never have to worry about who his offensive coordinator is, because he would be the offensive coordinator.
Constantly having to hire coordinators led to Miles’ and Orgeron’s decline at LSU because neither of them was great at it and neither could run one side of the ball or the other.
Miles never settled his offensive and quarterback problems illustrated for the world to see in his 21-0 loss to Alabama in the national championship game on Jan. 9, 2012.
Orgeron rarely could get settled on a coordinator on either side. He was almost always looking for an offensive coordinator, a pass game coordinator or a defensive coordinator for the duration of his time as LSU’s coach. It ended up sealing his fate because he hired more bad ones than good ones.
All Riley would have to do is find a good defensive coordinator here and there, and LSU would be set.
Even bad coaches have recruited well at LSU, and Riley is a great recruiter. Think of what his recruiting experience in Dallas and other Texas areas could add to LSU’s already plentiful base.
But why would he leave? Oklahoma is a great program, and Riley has been great. He is 54-9 overall with three College Football Playoff appearances and 36-6 in the Big 12 with three titles since taking over in 2017. He had been Oklahoma’s offensive coordinator in 2015 and ’16 under coach Bob Stoops.
Well, maybe Riley feels he has taken Oklahoma as far as he can, which has been three semifinal losses in the Playoff, including a 63-28 blowout by LSU in 2019.
LSU, with a better and closer recruiting base than Oklahoma, could make Riley better as it made Saban better from 2000-04 than he was at Michigan State because of a better and closer recruiting base.
Riley could be thinking, “Gosh, with the talent I could get there, particularly receivers and other skill players, and if Les Miles and Ed Orgeron won national championships there, I could win two or three, unless I go to the NFL like Saban.”
Riley has been at Oklahoma for seven years, counting his time as offensive coordinator. He has been coaching in the Big 12 for 14 years, counting his time as an assistant coach at Texas Tech from 2003-09 under the great offensive mind of Mike Leach.
Riley, a Lubbock, Texas native who was a walk-on quarterback at Texas Tech, has been in the Big 12 for most of his life. At this stage of his life, he could be wanting something new, an adventure, wanderlust.
It could happen.