College football can’t help itself. No matter how wholesome and endearing it can be at times, there is always a Sunday when a coach in the prime of his career can shake up the industry with the typical backdrop of millions of dollars, a desperate fan base, shifting loyalties and a chance to remake an entire conference.
Make that entire nation.
Lincoln Riley did that with a wave of his hand — or whatever gesture he made — in accepting the USC job Sunday. It was a shock wave felt from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to Los Angeles with significant tremors still rumbling in Norman, Oklahoma.
Riley became the first Oklahoma coach to leave for another college football job since 1946. Every other Sooners coach since then had either retired, been fired or — in the case of Jim Mackenzie — died on the job. That’s the definition of a destination gig.
Riley sort of used Oklahoma as a stepping stone. That’s a necessary realization as Sooners faithful treat their wounds and attempt to heal their injured pride. But who can blame any 38-year-old — in the prime of his career with the prospect of upward mobility — for making such a calculated move? The difference is that, in the real world with a hedge fund maven or corporate real estate titan, they at least give two weeks’ notice.
Riley looked around, considered that he had peaked at Oklahoma after five seasons, and said goodbye less than 24 hours after he had declared loyalty. Sort of. When Riley said after Saturday’s Bedlam game that he wasn’t going to LSU, no one considered whether that meant he could go somewhere else.
That’s part of the shock. As long as Riley was in Norman, the Sooners were going to win Big 12 titles and challenge for the College Football Playoff. His continued excellence was a significant reason Oklahoma felt great about a move to the SEC.
The sense of, well, betrayal is palpable. Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione took a risk in 2017, elevating Bob Stoops’ 33-year-old offensive coordinator to replace the legendary coach. He paid Riley handsomely and gave him the resources he needed.
But there will be no sympathy for OU in this case, certainly in Big 12 circles. Karma is a witch when you consider Riley adapted the same secretive process Oklahoma used in jumping to the SEC. The knife in the back can twist both ways.
One of the best coaches in the game made a calculated decision. So calculated that there may now be an explanation why Riley mysteriously disappeared for “personal reasons” the Tuesday of the Baylor game. Regardless, it’s now known Riley was talking to USC in the middle …….