NORMAN, Okla. — Just three years ago, Lincoln Riley was the offensive coordinator at East Carolina.
Now, he’ll take the reins at Oklahoma, one of the most powerful programs in college football.
“As a young guy, as a coach, when you decide you’re going to do this, these are things you just dream about,” Riley said at a joint press conference with Stoops on Wednesday. “I feel like I’m honestly living a dream right now.”
Though he is young, he is experienced and has had remarkable success with his offenses. His teams set numerous records at East Carolina, and his success continued as Oklahoma’s offensive coordinator. In 2015, he helped the Sooners rank fourth nationally in scoring and seventh in total offense. Quarterback Baker Mayfield finished fourth in the Heisman balloting, Riley won the Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant coach and the Sooners reached the College Football Playoff.
Last season, Oklahoma set an FBS record for passing efficiency and ranked second in total offense and third in scoring. Mayfield and wide receiver Dede Westbrook finished third and fourth in Heisman Trophy voting, respectively, and Westbrook won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s outstanding receiver.
“In Lincoln’s case, he’s far more prepared than maybe some that are 43, just by the nature of the special opportunities that came to him very early, at a very early age,” Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione said.
Riley was considered a top coaching prospect nationally. Just last month, Oklahoma gave him a three-year contract extension worth $1.3 million per year, making him one of the highest-paid coordinators in the country. The transition to head coach happened so abruptly that Riley’s parents weren’t able to make it to the press conference on Wednesday.
“Right person at the right time,” Castiglione said. “Maybe the good fortune of the stars aligning for him being a person that we had attracted to the University of Oklahoma through Coach Stoops.”
Riley has massive shoes to fill. The 56-year-old Stoops was the longest-tenured active coach in major college football, taking the job at Oklahoma a day before Kirk Ferentz started at Iowa. He went 190-48 (.798) at Oklahoma in his only college head coaching job, giving him more victories than Sooners greats Barry Switzer (157) and Bud Wilkinson (145).
In just two years, Riley showed Stoops enough to make the coach feel comfortable that the right successor was in place. Stoops said he wouldn’t have retired if he didn’t believe the program would be in good hands. The list of reasons he gave explaining why Riley was prepared to take over was lengthy.
“All the things he really shows and demonstrates on a daily basis,” Stoops said. “All the characteristics necessary to be a great leader and to be a successful head coach. He’s a motivator, he’s detailed, incredibly bright in putting together his game plans and his schemes, his play calling, his feel for the game, and I think probably the biggest thing I’ve noticed from day one is his ability to relate to the players.”
Still, there will be an adjustment period since the Sooners had the same coach in place for 18 ½ years.
“Well, it’s certainly going to be different,” said defensive coordinator Mike Stoops, Bob’s brother. “Change is tough sometimes, but this, it seems — if you’re going to have transition for us, this is as good as it can get with a guy like Lincoln. Just his unique way of doing things and confidence and style that he brings is good, and it’s going to be good for our players. They’re going to embrace it.”
Riley’s first game will be at home against UTEP on Sept. 2. His second game will be at Ohio State. The players are ready to win for him.
“He’s going to be a great coach,” Oklahoma defensive back Will Johnson said. “I think coach Stoops is very comfortable with handing him the job. I don’t think he would have done it without being confident in Lincoln Riley. So, great coach to the next one.”