Lincoln Riley has bigger fish to fry right now than cooking on LSU rumors

Oct 23, 2021; Lawrence, Kansas, USA; Oklahoma Sooners head coach Lincoln Riley celebrates after a touchdown against the Kansas Jayhawks during the second half at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 23, 2021; Lawrence, Kansas, USA; Oklahoma Sooners head coach Lincoln Riley celebrates after a touchdown against the Kansas Jayhawks during the second half at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports /

Lincoln Riley can take another page out of the Bob Stoops’ book on Oklahoma football.

When you are the head coach of a successful Oklahoma football program, your name is going to come up almost automatically when other top jobs in college football come open.

That’s why it’s not surprising to learn, if you dare to believe the rumor mill, that Riley’s name is on the short list of coaches LSU would love to lure to Baton Rouge. There have even been reports over the last 24 hours that the 38-year old Sooner head coach has been offered and accepted an eight-year contract valued at $96 million, which averages out to $12 million annually.

The chance to make a significantly higher amount of money might be the only legitimate reason Riley would choose to leave a place and a program where he is treated and admired like royalty and is already king of the mountain.

Social media and the mainstream press have been lit up this week speculating about Riley going to LSU, but at least one college football analyst believes it is more than a rumor.

ESPN’s Tom Luginbill said on SiriusXM Radio this week, “There’s something going on at Oklahoma right now, and I would not be surprised one bit if the next LSU coach is Lincoln Riley.”

There have been several prominent names from the college coaching circles mentioned as lead candidates for the vacant LSU head-coach’s position in addition to Riley’s: Jimbo Fisher of Texas A&M, who coached with Nick Saban at LSU in the early 2000s; Mel Tucker of Michigan State, who was an assistant at LSU in 2000, and James Franklin at Penn State.

It’s interesting to me that we haven’t heard other names like Dave Aranda, the current Baylor head coach, who was defensive coordinator at LSU in 2019, the most recent of LSU four national championship seasons, and Matt Campbell, who has had a highly successful six-year, head-coaching run at Iowa State.

Riley, along with Fisher of Texas A&M and Michigan State’s Tucker, have all initially commented that they are already in a destination college football coaching job, inferring that they are not interested in the LSU job, but that’s really nothing more than expected legal and boilerplate public relations language at this stage of the search process.

All three of the aforementioned are ideal candidates for the LSU position, but my guess is that someone else is going to ultimately land the job.

Now back to Riley. I wrote yesterday that I thought it strange he would take a job in a conference that in one or two years Oklahoma will be a member of. I don’t believe Riley would relish playing Oklahoma as the LSU head coach.

It has also been rumored that if Riley were to take the LSU job he would take freshman Sooner QB Caleb Williams with him. That, too me, would be a double slap in the face to the Oklahoma program, something that would be highly out of character for Riley, but there actually would be nothing preventing Williams from entering the transfer portal to follow the offensive-mastermind Riley, best known as the quarterback-whisperer.

Here are a couple more reasons I don’t believe the Riley-going-to-LSU rumor will come to fruition:

  • I think Riley is sincere about his passion for Oklahoma and knows how good he has it at the University of Oklahoma. I believe the only coaching job he would leave OU for is in the NFL. Riley’s name has come up previously for coaching positions in the NFL, and I believe at some point in his still relatively young head-coaching career he will scratch the itch he has for coaching at the next level. Although, he would do himself a great service if he first checked with Barry Switzer and Bob Stoops, both of whom have been there, done that.
  • Riley is extremely loyal, not just to OU and its rich history and football tradition, but to athletic director Joe Castiglione and Stoops, both of whom had a major hand in bringing him aboard as an assistant in 2016 and later Riley’s elevation to head coach in 2017. Most head-coaching jobs come about as a result of an unsatisfactory job and a losing record by the previous head coach. That was not the case when Riley was named head coach. He inherited a championship-level program with a cupboard full of incoming and existing talent.
  • I believe Riley wants to follow in the legendary steps of Switzer and Stoops, and even Bud Wilkinson before them, and be a lasting, active part of the Oklahoma football legacy. That doesn’t mean he’ll stay as long as Stoops or Switzer, the two winningest coaches in Sooner football history, but I don’t see him jumping ship after just five seasons as head coach. Stoops is still on the athletic department payroll and is still around the program, and Riley knows Stoops was approached continuously about leaving Oklahoma for another college or NFL opening.

All of this makes for nice media commentary and sports talk-show conversation and debate, but OU’s Riley has more important business right now than paying attention to all the swirling LSU speculation.

The Sooner head coach is busy preparing his Oklahoma football team to finish off the season strong with two huge games forthcoming — hosting Iowa State in Norman on Saturday, followed by a big Bedlam battle with co-Big 12 leader Oklahoma State on Thanksgiving weekend.

Oklahoma’s season is still very much alive. LSU’s, on the other hand, was over a long time ago.