OU football: Why Lincoln Riley may continue to love recruiting, say no to NFL
ARLINGTON, Texas — Lincoln Riley will be on the sideline at JerryWorld this weekend.
Some folks think that'll happen a lot more next season.
Talk about Riley leaving Oklahoma to coach in the NFL isn't dying down. If anything, it's louder than it was a year ago. Watch an NFL game or catch a highlight show, and someone is bound to mention a franchise that needs to hire the Sooner coach.
And of course, if Jerry Jones finds himself in need of a new coach, the Dallas Cowboys owner may drive a Brinks truck to Norman himself.
Could Riley leave OU?
But earlier this week, as he prepared his team for the Big 12 title game at AT&T Stadium, he was asked a bit about recruiting. The December signing day is fast approaching, and recruiting is one of the things Riley seems to love most about being a college coach.
"I enjoy that part of it," Riley admitted. "I enjoy the hands-on approach to building the team and kind of going to get the guys you want and the competition for it."
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"There's times, like anybody, I get tired of it," Riley said. "Any college coach who says they don't is lying. There's times where it's a lot."
That sound you heard was Sooner fans holding their breath.
Recruiting, after all, is one of those things that gives Riley pure joy. Sure, you see him pumping his fists after big plays and bearhugging his players after big wins. But we've also seen him pump those same fists after recruits have committed to the Sooners.
Last year, OU's athletic department pulled back the curtain on signing day and released some video of the scene inside the football offices. When Jeremiah Criddell announced on ESPN2 that he was going to be a Sooner, Riley looked a bit like Tiger Woods at The Masters.
Fist pumping. Hollering. High fiving. Hugging.
Not long after, Riley admitted that level of celebration is normal when a recruit picks OU.
"Yeah, we get pretty excited," he said at the time. "It's no different than scoring a touchdown or winning a ballgame."
From the outside looking in, recruiting would seem to be one of the things that could get real old real fast. College coaches spend all this time trying to woo a teenager. They text. They call. They DM. And sometimes the kids go elsewhere because of the shoe that team wears or the school their significant other picks.
It has to be maddening.
But Riley thrills in the chase. The planning and strategizing and building, too.
Recruiting is one thing that might keep Riley at OU. It's not the only thing — a supportive administration for his program and a college-town lifestyle for his young family aren't bad either — but he wouldn't have much say so in how his roster is built in the NFL.
And in recent years, the NCAA has made some changes that have made Riley love recruiting even more. Several dead periods have added or extended, giving coaches a bit more of a break.
"I think we're doing some things rules-wise to hopefully help that because the recruiting doesn't stop," Riley said. "When you are not recruiting, you are coaching."
The sport has become nearly a 365-day-a-year job for coaches. They are compensated handsomely, of course, but even the well-paid among us deserve a day off every now and again. That's become rarer and rarer for college football coaches.
"We'll have this dead period coming up in February that none of us has ever had before," Riley said. "Even in February, for a coach just to get one day in a weekend when we don't have a recruit up here visiting feels like a two-week vacation in Hawaii.
"That part will be nice."
Riley knows he has it good in one way — he's not recruiting basketball players.
"The college basketball deal is out of control," he said. "I mean, those guys, all the different summer things."
Select and traveling teams have changed how college coaches recruit. Used to be, they went through the high school coaches, built those relationships and worked that channel. Now, there are so many more layers with summer coaches and team sponsors.
"A lot of people in football hope we stay away from that," Riley said.
Count him in that group.
Lincoln Riley loves recruiting, the process and the outcome, the chase and the catch. Loves it so much that it might well be one of the reasons he says no to NFL suitors.
And you don't have to hold your breath, Sooner fans — it may stay that way because Riley has a few more chances to catch his.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or email@example.com. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK or follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok.