A year ago at this time, there were quite a few questions and concerns about first-year Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley.
Riley, who at 33 years old became the youngest head coach among active Football Bowl Subdivision coaches when he took over last June for Bob Stoops, had been very successful as an offensive coordinator at both East Carolina and for two seasons under Stoops at Oklahoma. But now he was taking over one of college football’s most storied and successful programs as a first-time head coach.
What was different in Riley’s situation, however, he wasn’t taking over a team in need of a change at the top because it had fallen on hard times and was in need of a reboot. Quite the contrary, Stoops had stepped down after 18 highly successful seasons, and he elected to do so leaving the cupboard full of talent and the team playing at the top of its game. A situation that most new head coaches can only dream about.
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Riley was Stoops’ personal choice to replace him. The Texas Tech alum, former player and later an assistant coach there was set up to win at Oklahoma, not to fail, and he came through his inaugural season with flying colors.
Recognized as one of the brightest, young, offensive architects in the college game today, Riley directed a Sooner offensive attack that led the nation in total offense, yards per game, yards per play, passing efficiency and touchdowns last season.
The Sooners won 12 games, a third consecutive Big 12 championship and advanced to the College Football Playoff for the second time in the four seasons the CFP format has been in existence.
Even though his responsibilities are much larger now as head coach, Riley still serves as OU’s offensive coordinator and calls all the plays. How long he is going to be able to do that and still effectively oversee the entire program is uncertain. He is clearly an offensive mastermind, and he hasn’t indicated that he is willing to delegate those duties and give up control of what he does best and better than most anyone else in the college game currently.
The sample size is small, with just one season to go by, but the early returns are extremely encouraging that Riley is going to quickly move up the ranks among the Big 12 coaching hierarchy.
A year ago at this time, Athlon Sports ranked the unproven Riley eighth among Big 12 football coaches, ahead of only Kliff Kingsbury of Texas Tech and David Beaty of Kansas. The year before that (2016), the same publication ranked Bob Stoops No. 1 among the coaches in the conference.
Athlon recently published its 2018 ranking of the Big 12 coaches. Riley is up to No. 4 in the Big 12 and 26th nationally. Ranked ahead of the OU head coach in the Big 12 are No. 3 Bill Snyder of Kansas State, the dean of Big 12 coaches, No. 2 Mike Gundy of Oklahoma State, and TCU’s Gary Patterson tops the list.
If Riley keeps winning, it won’t be long before he joins his team at the top of the roost in the Big 12.