NewsOK: Oklahoma City News, Sports, Weather & Entertainment

Opinion: Recruiting OU football coach Lincoln Riley to take a $640,000 pay cut? Easy sell for Joe Castiglione.

Lincoln Riley (with jersey) is announced as new head coach at a news conference in Norman, Okla. on June 7, 2017. Beside him, from left, are athletic director Joe Castiglione, daughter Stella and wife Caitlin. [Steve Sisney/The Oklahoman]
Lincoln Riley (with jersey) is announced as new head coach at a news conference in Norman, Okla. on June 7, 2017. Beside him, from left, are athletic director Joe Castiglione, daughter Stella and wife Caitlin. [Steve Sisney/The Oklahoman]

Lincoln Riley had an in-home visit last week.

He wasn’t the one visiting a recruit, though.

Instead, Joe Castiglione paid a visit to the OU football coach’s house. The OU athletic director wanted to chat about department finances in the time of coronavirus. Specifically, he wanted to get some feedback about salary cuts for Sooner staffers making over $1 million, a 10% reduction this next year.

No one stood to forfeit more than Riley, OU’s highest paid coach.

“It took me about two and a half seconds, and I said I was good with it,” Riley said. “That was it.”

No one should feel sorry for Riley. Instead of making in the ballpark of $6.4 million next year, he’ll make closer to $5.7 million. Pretty sure he’ll manage just fine.

So, he shouldn’t be celebrated.

But he should be appreciated.

The Sooner football coach has a maturity about him that continues to impress. Simply put, he gets it. Whether he’s talking about pandemic planning or racial injustice or player empowerment or how to beat Texas on the second weekend of October, he clearly understands what he’s doing.

Remember, he’s only 36 years old and has been a head coach for just a little over three years.

There are plenty of head coaches who are older and more experienced who haven’t shown themselves to be nearly as wise as Riley.

His approach to this pay cut is just the latest feather in his cap.

On Friday, I asked Riley during a Zoom call with reporters whether he’d thought about the ramifications of the $640,000 or so he was leaving in the crimson-and-cream coffers. Scholarships for some athletes were no doubt saved. Truth be told, some non-revenue programs are probably on much more solid footing because of what Riley and a handful of other high-paid coaches were willing to do.

“I don't see it as much different than my day-to-day job,” Riley said of backing Castiglione’s cost-saving plan. “My day-to-day job is to oversee and run a program that's very important to the school and very important to the state and always has been and always will be.

“I understand the responsibilities that come with that.”

In normal times, those responsibilities include being successful not only for the betterment of the football program but also for the benefit of the athletic department. What football does impacts so many areas in so many ways, both tangible and intangible.

The most tangible benefit, of course, is financial.

Football is the engine for OU athletics. Lots of programs are super charged — softball, gymnastics and golf prime among them — because of what football enables. Budgets are bigger, which means equipment, facilities, travel and recruiting are better because of those football funds.

Riley understands that.

By extension, he sees this pay cut as an extension of what he has been tasked to do as the OU football coach.

“In this time, it's just another way that I can do my job,” he said. “That's my job is to make it successful. Whatever I've gotta do to do that, then that's why (agreeing with the pay-cut idea) certainly wasn't a hard decision.

“I know it's a big deal, but from that standpoint, when Joe asked me, it didn't feel like that big a deal. It was like, ‘Of course I will.’”

The pandemic has changed things for everyone.

“I didn’t see any reason why I should be any different,” Riley said.

He could’ve made Joe Castiglione’s house call more difficult, could’ve resisted his boss’s pay-cutting, budget-balancing sales pitch. But like so many things, Lincoln Riley got it and bought it, and OU is better because of it.

Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or jcarlson@oklahoman.com. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK or follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok.

Jenni Carlson

Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football... Read more ›

Comments