Lincoln Riley is scheduled to be introduced as USC’s football coach today one day after his unexpected hiring after five seasons as Oklahoma’s coach drew praise from Trojan legends and college football analysts.
Matt Leinart, the 2004 Heisman Trophy winner, tweeted that the hiring was “a home run hire” and “a quick fix at USC with the right guy,” recalling how the Trojans were 6-6 in 2001, his freshman season and the first with Pete Carroll as coach, and 11-2 in 2002. Reggie Bush, the 2005 Heisman Trophy winner, tweeted, “The future is bright @USC_FB.”
Fox Sports college football analyst Joel Klatt tweeted on Sunday that USC “made an astonishingly great move today which will return that program to national title contention.” “Lincoln is one of the best coaches in the sport,” Klatt tweeted. “His first job is to OWN Southern California recruiting. If he does that they will be National Title contender in the first 3 years.”
Riley’s move to USC has already had an impact on recruiting. Los Alamitos High School quarterback Malachi Nelson, the No. 3 ranked prospect in the ESPN Junior 300, announced on social media Sunday night that he was decommitting from Oklahoma “in light of the recent events and changes.”
Ari Wasserman, a national college football reporter for the sports news website The Athletic, tweeted Sunday that Riley called Nelson on behalf of USC. Riley coached Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks each of his first two seasons as the Sooners’ coach — Baker Mayfield in 2017 and Kyler Murray in 2018.
“Lincoln will land any top QB recruit by reminding them of Baker & Kyler’s” Heisman Trophies, Fox Sports talk show host and former NFL linebacker Emmanuel Acho tweeted. Acho called Riley a “top five” college football coach who “will put USC back on the map.”
The USC football news website ReignofTroy.com declared that Riley has the best resume of a football coach hired by USC since Howard Jones was hired in 1925 after winning national championships at Yale in 1909 and Iowa in 1921. Jones coached the Trojans to national championships in 1928, 1932, 1932 and 1939.
Riley takes over a program that has won one Pac-12 Conference championship since Pete Carroll left following the 2009 season to coach the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks. With a 4-7 record entering Saturday’s season finale against California, the Trojans are assured of their second losing season in four seasons and third in 22 seasons.
Riley replaces Clay Helton, who was fired Sept. 13, two days after a 42-28 loss to Stanford dropped the Trojans’ record to 1-1 and 46-24 in four seasons under Helton including the coronavirus-shortened 2020 season, parts of two others and a one-game stint as interim coach in 2013.
Donte Williams has served as interim coach since Helton’s firing. Williams will coach the team Saturday against the Golden Bears. Riley was 55-10 in five seasons as the Sooners’ coach, including berths in the College Football Playoff in each of his first three seasons and Big 12 Conference championships in each of his first four.
“USC has an unparalleled football tradition with tremendous resources and facilities, and the administration has made a deep commitment to winning,” Riley said in the news release issued by USC announcing his hiring. “I look forward to honoring that successful tradition and building on it.
“The pieces are in place for us to build the program back to where it should be and the fans expect it to be. We will work hard to develop a physical football team that is dominant on both lines of scrimmage and has a dynamic balanced offense and a stout aggressive defense.” Riley called leaving Oklahoma after five seasons as coach following two as offensive coordinator “probably the most difficult decision of my life.”
“This was a personal decision solely based on my willingness to go take on a new challenge and I felt like it was the right opportunity for me and my family to do that,” Riley said in a statement released by the University of Oklahoma. Terms of the contract were not disclosed. Riley is scheduled to arrive in Los Angeles this morning.
USC Athletic Director Mike Bohn said Riley “is the rarest combination of extraordinary person and elite football coach.” “His successes and offensive accolades as a head coach the past five years are astonishing,” Bohn said in the news release.
“Lincoln will recruit relentlessly, develop his players on and off the field, and implement a strong culture in which the program will operate with the highest level of integrity and professionalism.” USC President Carol L. Folt called Riley “the perfect choice for our new head coach.”
“He is known for caring about the development and character of his players and winning at the highest level,” Folt said in the news release. “Mike Bohn and I share a vision for the future of USC Athletics and hiring coach Riley is a huge statement about where we are going as a program.”
Riley was not among the coaches speculated as potential replacements for Helton, a list that included Cincinnati’s Luke Fickell, Baylor’s Dave Aranda, Penn State’s James Franklin and Iowa State’s Matt Campbell.
The speculation about Riley’s future was whether he would take the vacant LSU job. During his postgame news conference following Oklahoma’s 37-33 loss to Oklahoma State Saturday, Riley interrupted a question by saying, “I’m not going to be the next head coach at LSU.”
Born Sept. 5, 1983, in Lubbock, Texas, and raised in the 5,000-person West Texas town of Muleshoe, Riley was on the football and track teams at Muleshoe High School. Riley was a walk-on quarterback at Texas Tech in the spring and summer of 2003 before starting his coaching career as a student assistant there under Mike Leach from 2003-05, working with the offense.
Riley received his bachelor’s degree in exercise and sports science from Texas Tech in 2006 and was an offensive graduate assistant at Texas Tech in 2006, then joined the Red Raiders’ full-time staff as the wide receivers coach in 2007.
Riley remained at Texas Tech through 2009, then became the offensive coordinator at East Carolina in 2010. Following five seasons with the Pirates, including being the assistant head coach in 2014, Riley was hired as Oklahoma’s offensive coordinator in 2015.