NORMAN — Lincoln Riley was always going to get the question about coaching in the NFL.
Riley’s sharp offensive mind is perfect for a league that is evolving toward a decidedly collegiate look. And the Oklahoma coach just produced the NFL’s No. 1 overall draft pick, Baker Mayfield.
But the confluence of events Monday — Mayfield’s head coach got the ax in Cleveland, just minutes before Riley’s weekly news conference — was perfect timing.
Is he interested?
“Knew that was coming,” Riley said. “Not right now.”
The Browns fired Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley, and shortly afterward, Riley had already anticipated questions about jumping to the NFL and coaching his old Heisman winner.
“You sit here and answer these questions, and I always want to be truthful,” Riley said. “The truth is for me is, I love Oklahoma. I love coaching here. I love college football. I certainly don’t have that itch right now. I don’t know that I ever will. I’m not gonna be a guy that’s gonna stand up here and say ‘No way, no how will any of these things ever happen.’ I don’t know that. But I know right now, I could care less about the NFL. We’re trying to win this game, we’re trying to make a run that we all know we have in us right now.”
It’s notable that Riley used the phrase “right now” four times in his answer.
So he didn’t exactly shoot it down.
It’s a tactic Bob Stoops used to have to brush off every year, between the Browns, 49ers and Dallas Cowboys, among others: never say never, but not right now.
Later, Riley was asked what exactly it was he loved about OU and college football.
“Well, Oklahoma has been great to me,” he said. “They didn’t have to give me a shot years ago, and certainly didn’t have to give me a shot a year and a half ago. That’s something I’ll never forget. Because opportunities like this, I realize how lucky I am to have gotten one and really two here. And I think we have everything we need to be successful for a long, long time. I really like living here. I just like everything about this place. They’ve been good to me and we’ve got a chance to, like I said, we’re doing some great things right now and I think the future’s gonna continue to get better and better. It’s just all positive in my mind.”
And on the allure of staying on the college level?
“I like the age group a lot,” Riley said. “Those guys that are kind of still in the middle of being young, being a teenager, and then starting to develop into grown men. It’s a pretty impactful time for guys. So I enjoy this part of it. I kind of enjoy the teaching, where a lot of ‘em know the base fundamentals but there’s still some pure teaching and coaching that goes. On I like the atmospheres I like the rivalries. It’s one of the most popular sports on earth for a reason.”
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “The Franchise Drive” every weeknight from 6-8 on The Franchise in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, and appears throughout the day on other shows on The Franchise. Listen at fm107.7 in OKC, fm107.9/am1270 in Tulsa, on The Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page. Hoover also covers the Big 12 for Sporting News and Lindy’s magazine and is a feature writer for Sooner Spectator magazine. Visit his personal page at johnehoover.com.