Following what has resulted in of the most seismic losses in Oklahoma’s football history, once the clock hit zero in Stillwater following a defeat at the hands of the Oklahoma State Cowboys, the Sooners’ missteps became an afterthought. Following five seasons in Norman where the now-USC head coach led the Sooners to a 55-10 record, four Big 12 titles, three College Football Playoff appearances, and perhaps most importantly, two Heisman trophy winners in back-to-back seasons (Baker Mayfield/Kyler Murray), Lincoln Riley’s decision to depart Oklahoma in the waning hours of the night sent shockwaves throughout college football.
While contract figures have yet to be announced, his approximate $7.67M earnings from this fall could soon represent pocket change for a coach at the forefront of the offseason head coaching carousel. A job many would leave their current employment for at the drop of a hat, the last coach to leave the Sooners for another coaching gig came back in 1972, when Chuck Fairbanks left to take over the New England Patriots, handing the reins to famed bench boss Barry Switzer. However, the last time an Oklahoma coach left for another college job came nearly 75 years ago, when Jim Tatum left to become head coach at the University of Maryland in 1947.
The hiring process for Oklahoma has been a fairly rare occurrence in Norman, where following Switzer’s 17-year tenure, Oklahoma has engineered just one full-fledged hiring search that came near the turn of the millennium. After Switzer’s resignation in the summer of 1989 where he famously relayed the Sooner job was “no fun anymore,” the Sooners managed the next decade under the likes of Gary Gibbs, Howard Schnellenberger, and John Blake before the hiring of former Florida defensive coordinator Bob Stoops in 1998. And while Stoops would go on to lead the program to its lone National Championship (2000), and 10 Big 12 crowns, he departed to make way for Riley but has since been called upon to lead the Sooners into its final game this fall as Athletic Director Joe Castiglione begins his search for Riley’s replacement.
A program littered with prestige, day-one draft talent, and a recruiting pipeline as fruitful as any over the years, where Riley’s departure leaves the biggest mark is at the prep level, where Oklahoma has lost a slew of verbal commitments in just the last 24 hours from some of their most star-studded recruits. Entering Sunday, the Sooners had 17 commitments in a 2022 class that ranked seventh nationally, according to 247Sports’ Recruiting Composite. As the news broke of Riley’s acceptance of the USC job, the Sooners lost a verbal from 5-star ball-carrier Raleek Brown, the No. 1 wideout in the 2023 class in Brandon Inniss, the No. 2 overall quarterback prospect in Malachi Nelson, 5-star wide receiver Makai Lemon, and a decommitment from top-100 running back Treyaun Webb. It’s truly unprecedented, especially when you consider where the highly-touted high school talents call home. Brown, Nelson, and Lemon are each from the Orange County area, and after years of sitting through recruiting pitches where they were persuaded to make their way east, Riley is now set up in their backyard, and all could stay and play at home.
With an expected move to the SEC coming before 2025, Oklahoma has found itself in a world of hurt. While it would be fair to say Riley’s departure to the Trojans has set back the Sooners a multitude of years, the current situation with freshman quarterback Caleb Williams remains paramount with next fall in mind. Spencer Rattler is gone and if Williams follows suit via the transfer portal (if he eyes greener pastures), the Sooners are in trouble. In addition, as many of Riley’s assistants are expected to pack up and accompany him to USC, Oklahoma has found itself without any immediate answers to many of its most pressing questions as they prepare to enter the lion’s den that is the SEC.