LOS ANGELES (AP) — Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley tells The Associated Press it was “surreal” to get a call from USC and he left the Sooners in tears. He said leaving his alma mater after just three seasons with an NCAA record of 78-9 was tough on him but right for him and his family.
8:51 p.m. Eastern
All Lincoln Riley had to do was say yes, board a three-hour flight, change the shade of his red tie from crimson to cardinal, and he was standing inside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Monday afternoon, in sunny, 75-degree late November weather, being introduced as the 18th head coach in USC football history.
“Is this really real? Unthinkable, “Riley stated this as he turned around to see the Hollywood sign on one side and the Los Angeles skyline on the other. “To be honest, it’s a weird situation.”
Riley’s surprise hiring away from Oklahoma, which rippled across the sport, was followed by a joyous shock on Monday. While Riley pinched himself, USC’s administrators and power brokers basked in the glory of a statement hiring while remaining startled they’d ended up here.
“Changing the landscape of collegiate football with one of the largest movements in the game’s history was never our aim,” stated USC athletic director Mike Bohn. “However, it is precisely what we did.”
Bohn’s self-assurance was obvious both during and after the ceremony. He referred to USC as a “sleeping behemoth” that has awoken.
Riley has led Oklahoma to three College Football Playoff trips, four Big-12 crowns, and four 10-win seasons in the previous five seasons, while producing two Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks in Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray. Meanwhile, USC has failed to qualify for the College Football Playoff, has just one Pac-12 championship, and has gone 33-23 in that time.
“We felt pressure,” Bohn remarked, adding that his colleagues often tell him that “when USC is successful, college football is excellent.”
Since firing Clay Helton in October, USC has been connected to a number of possibilities. Riley’s name, though, had never been mentioned. Riley was questioned about his name being mentioned in LSU coaching speculations on Saturday night. He said, “I will not be the next head coach at LSU.” USC, on the other hand, was a different story.
When questioned about leaving Oklahoma, Riley replied, “It was terrible to leave the area I left.” “But I knew this was the proper thing at the same time.” Riley subsequently acknowledged that the speculation that he departed Oklahoma because of the team’s imminent relocation to the SEC had “zero effect” on his choice.
He said, “People are going to say what they’re going to say.”
Riley’s hiring was a high-wire act, according to Riley, Bohn, and USC’s chief of staff Brandon Sosna. It took months of work, multiple consultants, over a dozen vetted candidates, roughly 400 pages of data, and a 50-slide presentation that USC showed to key influencers as part of their search process.
It all came to a head on Saturday night, when Sosna paced inside a suite at the USC-BYU game as one of the TVs showed the Oklahoma-Oklahoma State game. They realized that if the game’s outcome came down to the wire, it may sway Riley’s decision or at the very least postpone it.
“It came together in a flash. But, to be honest, in today’s world of college football, it almost has to “Riley remarked. USC, he claims, contacted him on Sunday morning with genuine desire, and they were able to get on a Zoom call with Riley to make their last pitch. The relocation was made official within a few hours.
“Everything piqued my interest,” Riley remarked. “The location, the program’s history, and the opportunity to recruit and develop a national championship squad all appeal to me. The chance for my family to relocate to a new location.”
Riley also revealed that Alex Grinch of Oklahoma would be the next USC defensive coordinator, while Clark Stroud, Denis Simmons, and Benny Wiley will take over as director of football operations, wide receivers coach, and head strength coach, respectively, during his Monday press conference.
“These men hopped on a plane with me without a contract this morning,” Riley said.
While Bohn declined to discuss contract terms, he did add that Riley’s financial pledges “include a competitive mentality.” “We recognize the competitive nature of the marketplace,” Bohn added. Riley, for one, said the alignment shown by USC and the support he got helped him make his choice.
Riley said he’ll go to work on recruiting in the shadows right immediately, even though USC only has one game remaining in the season — a postponed showdown against Cal on Saturday that will be coached by interim Donte Williams — with early signing day only a few weeks away. In the last few days, many 5-star Oklahoma prospects with West Coast connections have decommitted from the Sooners.
Riley said, “We aim on developing the finest roster in the nation, as well as the best locker room culture in the country.” “[The Coliseum] will be packed. This will be college football’s Mecca.”