Lincoln Riley’s job is secure, but will the lure of the NFL eventually win out?

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 14: Head coach Lincoln Riley reacts after a touchdown by CeeDee Lamb #2 of the Oklahoma Sooners on a 39 yard pass play during the first half of a game against the UCLA Bruins on at the Rose Bowl on September 14, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 14: Head coach Lincoln Riley reacts after a touchdown by CeeDee Lamb #2 of the Oklahoma Sooners on a 39 yard pass play during the first half of a game against the UCLA Bruins on at the Rose Bowl on September 14, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) /

Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley is one of the youngest and yet one of the most revered coaches in college football. You better believe he is on the radar of a number of teams at the next level.

Related Story. Details on Lincoln Riley's contract extension revealed. light

It seems like blasphemy to ponder the notion that a college head coach who has won 28 games and been to consecutive College Football Playoffs in his first two seasons on the job might not be around long enough to see the full effects of what he started. That is the reality, however, that currently surrounds the Sooner head coach and offensive genius.

I know history has shown us that successful head coaches at the University of Oklahoma — and there are very few that have not been successful there — have remained in their role of their own free will for what would be considered long coaching reigns.

The average time on the job for the most successful of the 22 OU head coaches all-time (Bob Stoops, Barry Switzer, Bud Wilkinson and Bennie Owen), each of whom led the Sooners to 100 or more wins, is 18 seasons . No other FBS program has had as many as four different head coaches win more than 100 games.

Riley is only in his second season as a head coach, but with what he has accomplished in just a short span of time since receiving the baton from Bob Stoops, there is every indication that his success could rival that of the four Sooner coaching icons whose bronze, life-size statues on the south side of the Switzer Center that remind us of the greatness and tradition that has existed in 125 years of Oklahoma football.

The Oklahoma head coach, who a month ago turned 36, is viewed as one of the brightest offensive minds in the college game today and has the resume to support that notion. He acknowledges that there may not be a better job in college football than the one he has. That’s all good news as far as Sooner fans are concerned.

The not-so-good news is that Riley’s accomplishments have not gone unnoticed at the next level, and the Sooner head coach has admitted that coaching in the NFL, at some point in time, is something that interests him. At the same time, he is quick to emphasize that he is very happy and content doing what he’s doing now.

"“I love Oklahoma. I love coaching here. I love college football,” Riley told reporters late last season before the Big 12 Championship game. I certainly don’t have that itch right now. Don’t know that I ever will.”"

It is no secret that Riley’s name is getting talked about a lot these days by NFL general managers who have become increasingly fascinated by the explosive college offenses and the variations of the Air Raid and run-pass option offenses that are finding success in the NFL.

Riley’s two most-recent quarterback prodigies, Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray, are now NFL starting quarterbacks. The fact that the NFL is a quarterback-driven league, and there is no one who has had more recent success, albeit in a relatively short period of time, coaching and developing college QBs and putting them in the best position to be successful than Riley.

Oklahoma Sooners Football
Oklahoma Sooners Football /

Oklahoma Sooners Football

This season’s Oklahoma offense continues to put up staggering numbers and could be the best and most productive Sooner offense in the five seasons Riley has been associated with Oklahoma football.

Under Riley, Oklahoma has ranked No. 1 in the country in total offense each of the two seasons he has been head coach (2017 and 2018), and was No. 2 in 2016 and No. 7 in 2015, the two seasons he was offensive coordinator. The Sooners averaged an NCAA-record 8.7 yards per play last season, and are averaging over 10 yards per play through four games this season.

The itch that Riley refers to may not be that sensitive right now, but it’s bound to get scratched more than a few times as the NFL coaching carousel gets going during the 2019 season and offseason. How he will respond as his name starts appearing on more and more NFL coaching short lists — either as a candidate for a head coach’s position or as an offensive coordinator — remains to be seen.

One school of thought is that the strong appreciation Riley holds for the opportunity OU gave him to become a first-time head coach of one of the blue blood programs in college football will — for the immediate time being, at least — outweigh any job inquiries or offers he may receive, particularly at the college level.

There is also Riley’s love for the college game and working with and developing young men to consider.

Another factor that helps weigh in OU’s favor is the contract extension Riley received earlier this year. According to the terms of his new OU contract, Riley will make $32 million over the next five seasons.

If he were to decide to leave at the end of the 2019 season, however, he would have to pay Oklahoma $4.6 million. That figure will go down by $1 million every year until 2022. Additionally, Riley will receive $700,000 as an annual stay bonus on June 1 every contract year he remains as the Sooner head coach. If he is still the head coach on April 1, 2021, he will receive an additional $1 million.

None of this, however, prevents Riley from accepting a job offer elsewhere if the circumstances become to appealing both personally and professionally (no pun intended) to turn down.

Perhaps the biggest concern, insofar as Riley jumping ship at OU to pursue a dream job in the NFL would be if one of the Texas NFL franchises — either the Dallas Cowboys or the Houston Texans — would come calling to acquire his services. As a native Texan and having an abiding interest in the NFL, that might be too much of an emotional and economic appeal to ignore.

Chances are, the Sooner head coach is going to come to that crossroad sooner than most of us will like. The direction he takes is entirely up to him and his family.

Regardless, as one immortal soul once uttered, “It’s not over till it’s over.” Lincoln Riley is firmly in place as the head football coach at the University of Oklahoma, and there is nothing to say that he won’t remain in that role for a number of years to come. This is one fan that is hoping so, anyway.