OU football: Lincoln Riley has turned the spring game into an event
NORMAN — Lincoln Riley has been Oklahoma’s football coach for 22 months, and over that time, he’s maintained lots of things.
The success. The tradition. The prominence.
But the thing he’s changed most is the spring game.
Only two years ago – when Bob Stoops was still the head coach – the Sooner spring game was just that. The players were split into two teams, the fans were given a chance to come in and watch, and that was about the extent of it.
Now, the Red-White Game is an event.
“What a great night,” Riley said Friday after this year’s spring soiree. “I don’t know if I’ve ever enjoyed a spring game as much as I did that one right there.
“Kind of like you would dream the night would go.”
For the record, the Jalen Hurts-quarterbacked Red beat the White, 35-14, in front of an announced crowd of 50,228, but what happened on the field might be the least important part of this brave new world.
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The spring game is all about recruiting now.
The reason is the shift in the recruiting calendar. The earlier signing day has forced college football programs to reconsider how and when they recruit. Can’t wait until summer or fall to bring in prospects for official visits. Getting them on campus in the spring has become a must.
But how to show recruits what a game day is like?
A year ago, Riley and Co. decided they would super charge the spring game and see if they couldn’t use it as their premier recruiting weekend.
“We got out front,” Riley said. “We didn’t wait for other people to do it.”
They had a pre-game concert. They brought in past players. They did promotions and marketing and all sorts of stuff that had never really been done before.
It was forward thinking.
But it also had risk.
“Our administration has believed in our vision because financially, there’s a big investment there,” Riley said. “Especially last year, they had to have some blind faith in us. What if you invest in this and we don’t do it right?”
That didn’t happen.
“(Last year) paid dividends with a monster recruiting class that had no more single important day than that spring game last year,” Riley said.
And so, OU went big again this year.
Before the game, videos of all sorts of Sooners in the NFL rolled on the big screen. Adrian Peterson. Gerald McCoy. Sterling Shepard. Baker Mayfield. Then there was a Nike video and a video showing all of the Sooners recent successes. The Big 12 titles. The College Football Playoff appearances.
All of it was slick and well-done, but all of it was clearly propaganda aimed directly at the recruits who were in the stadium.
OU did plenty for the fans, too. There were field goals for tuition, Rock Paper Scissors for season tickets and punt catching for a year’s worth of burgers.
Miraculous, a guy caught a couple punts and no one appeared to leave with a broken nose.
All of those details within the spring game are discussed by Riley and his staff.
“It gets talked about behind our walls probably more than people outside would imagine,” Riley said. “Every single little detail.”
It’s why they decided earlier this week to move the game at the last minute. Bad weather threatened on Saturday afternoon, and rather than wash out all that had been planned, Riley and Co. decided to move the game to Friday night.
After seeing how many people came out and how fun the evening was, Riley was thinking big.
“This may become an annual tradition,” he said of the spring game being on a Friday night.
Lincoln Riley's already remade the spring game.
No reason to stop now.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.