OU football: Lincoln Riley, three years after filling Bob Stoops' shoes, has Sooners on right path with a few steps left to take
In just three years, Lincoln Riley has taken over one of the most prestigious brands in college football, put his stamp on the program and kept its status as one of the nation’s best.
Sunday was Riley’s third anniversary since being promoted to OU’s head coach. In those three years, the Sooners’ have established themselves as one of the nation's premiere programs with a reputation for high-powered offenses captained by NFL quarterbacks. The Sooners have amassed a 36-6 record, three Big 12 titles and three College Football Playoff appearances.
And Riley’s done it all by stepping into the shoes once filled by Bob Stoops, OU’s winningest coach, who led the Sooners to 190 wins and a national championship between 1999 and 2016.
“If somebody said I was Bob Stoops 2.0, I would take that as the ultimate compliment,” Riley told reporters last week. “There’s certainly a lot of parts of our program that carried over in some form or fashion from the way that Bob ran this program.”
A plethora of coaches have stepped into the shoes of legends, but few have done it to the same level of success Riley has. Jimbo Fisher was promoted to head coach at Florida State in 2010 after Bobby Bowden retired and led the Seminoles to an 83-23 record and a 2013 BCS national championship victory before leaving for Texas A&M in 2017. More recently, Ohio State’s Ryan Day just finished his first season as the Buckeye’s head coach after Urban Meyer’s retirement, and finished the season 13-1 and currently has the nation’s top-ranked recruiting class.
“There’s been a few things that have changed and I think maybe some of it is myself and the staff’s personality,” Riley said. “Some of it is just the times and the rules and what you have to do has changed, and we’ve had to adapt.”
Riley’s biggest stamp on the program can be seen in his staff, which continuously is becoming a younger, more energetic group. In 2017, Riley’s first full season as head coach, the coaching staff looked identical outside of Riley taking over for Stoops. By 2018, Riley hired Shane Beamer to coach tight ends and H-backs and Bennie Wylie as director of sports performance.
In total, Riley’s 2020 staff features seven coaches who weren’t on staff in 2017. Perhaps the most notable is defensive coordinator Alex Grinch, who also brought along cornerbacks coach Roy Manning and inside linebackers coach Brian Odom for their first season in 2019.
“As we’ve had some staff changed through the years you get the chance to start to put together a whole vision of what you really believe,” Riley said. “I think we’ve gotten more of an overall direction and we’ve had some key changes that have been really important for our program.”
Going into his fourth season, Riley faces challenges that he, nor any coach in the country, has ever faced. With spring football being shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Sooners’ have not been able to practice in an offseason in which they need to replace two NFL draft picks on defense in Kenneth Murray and Neville Gallimore and a quarterback who was the Heisman Trophy runner-up in Jalen Hurts.
OU’s players will report for voluntary workouts on July 1 after self-quarantining for two weeks prior.
“I’ve tried to become a better communicator with our guys,” Riley said when asked about his growth in the last three years. “Each year you have to continue to try to challenge yourself and find ways to get better, so I still feel challenged each and every day and still feel challenged every single year.”