All it took was took one game for Lincoln Riley to become the talk of … well, what exactly he’s become the talk of is an interesting question.
It’s a question because Riley has not made himself available to coach in the NFL.
To his credit, the last time his name became bandied about as an NFL head coaching possibility, he offered an honest thought.
“I certainly don’t have that itch right now. Don’t know that I ever will,” Riley said last December. “But I’m never going to be a guy that stands up here that says ‘No way, no how, with any of these things ever happening.’ I don’t know that.”
Now, he hasn’t done a thing but prepare the Sooners for Houston and, today, for South Dakota.
Yet, given quarterback Jalen Hurts’ performance against the Cougars, Riley’s stock may have been raised even more than his quarterback’s.
“I get that if we have success, there’s going to be noise outside about that,” Riley said. “We answer our recruits’ questions about it. We don’t shy away from it. We know it’s out there and we address it and move on.”
Note how Riley, when asked about NFL “noise,” answered in the context of being Oklahoma’s head coach and not in the context of maybe wanting to coach in the NFL someday.
Interesting and telling, perhaps.
Back to the “noise.”
On Fox Sports Radio, host Jason Smith said this:
“Lincoln Riley is the Pied Piper. He is it in college football. Riley, at 35, is earmarked for the National Football League. It’s going to be a feeding frenzy after this year for him and Riley is going to have any job he wants.”
On “Pardon the Interruption,” ESPN host Tony Kornheiser said this:
“There’s a line forming that’s starting now of NFL teams that are going to say to Lincoln Riley, ‘Come over here and help us out.”
After he said it, his partner for the day, Frank Isola, a one-time sportswriter with the New York Daily News, now a sports radio and ESPN personality, offered this:
“Jalen Hurts, I think, could play in the NFL. I’m pretty sure Lincoln Riley will be in the NFL next year.”
“I think he’s the best offensive mind I’ve seen,” offered Fox college football analyst Joel Klatt on host Colin Cowherd’s show. “I was trying to think of (Steve) Spurrier and all these … He’s doing things that are next level with schematics, with matchups, with game plans, with putting people in the right position to succeed. This guy is a master.”
Yours truly is merely a long-serving sportswriter at the Norman Transcript, but here’s something none of those guys seem to point out: it’s not just the schematics, the inventive mind, the ability to teach it to a quarterback and an offense, but plain old play-calling, too.
Old coaches like to diminish the importance of it, but last week, the Sooners averaged 11.2 yards per snap, and the space between the them and the No. 2 team on that list the first week of the season, Washington, is 1.4 yards, the Huskies managing 8.8 against New Mexico State.
What that means is, while one team was within 1.4 yards of OU, seven were within 1.4 of Washington: Clemson, Colorado, Tulane, Georgia, Hawaii, Utah State and Arizona.
And last season, the Sooners led the nation at 8.4 per snap, a full yard better than Alabama, and the year before that the Sooners led the nation at 8.1, better than Central Florida’s 7.4, and the year before that the Sooners led the nation at 7.4, fractionally better than Western Kentucky’s and Louisiana Tech’s 7.3.
Thus, not only can Riley create it, communicate it and prepare a team to run it, he’s better than anybody else at knowing which piece of his it to employ at any given moment. Not only that, but he’s getting better and better at it, too.
So, yeah, the NFL should want him, should probably back up the truck and throw every pile of money it can find into it and drive it to his doorstep.
Of course, for a man with ultimate job security, who’s slated to make $6 million this season, does cold hard cash even hold sway as a commodity?
Here’s what we do know.
Jason Smith is an entertaining radio host. I don’t listen to him now, but I used to when he was with ESPN and he was fun.
Tony Kornheiser is a legendary sportswriter and it’s almost a shame it’s broadcasting that’s made him famous, he's such a good writer.
Frank Isola may have been a good read with the Daily News, but really, these days, he’s just a guy with a microphone.
Joel Klatt once played quarterback for Colorado and surely knows his football, yet what does that have to do with Lincoln Riley going to the NFL?
Not a thing.
As for me, I’ve seen him from Day 1 here in Norman up close, but do I know what’s in Riley's heart beyond the team he coaches now?
Also, the last thing to propel him to the NFL will be smart people saying everybody in the NFL's going to want him. Further, nor will everybody wanting him in the NFL put him in the NFL.
He’ll go when he wants to, if he wants to, and he may want to, yet he may not want to, and he’ll never have to.
Another thing we know?
OU plays South Dakota tonight.
Lincoln Riley will be coaching because he’s a college football coach and his team has a game.