FRISCO, Texas — Big 12 Media Day is being staged this year at The Star, Jerry Jones’ new off-campus playground and practice facility for his $4 billion toy, the Dallas Cowboys.
But the star on Monday was Lincoln Riley.
From commissioner Bob Bowlsby to the hundreds of media in attendance to his peers around the league, everybody wanted a piece of the Oklahoma Sooners’ new head coach.
And, it would seem, everybody got a piece.
The 33-year-old Riley was asked a hundred times how he’ll be different from Bob Stoops. He was asked a hundred more about things he hadn’t anticipated coming across his desk (he said there wasn’t anything yet). He was asked a hundred more questions that were designed to make him think, pause, hesitate — questions about time management and delegating duties and administering punishment, about his head coaching philosophies and methodologies that will either forever pair him with or differentiate him from Bob Stoops.
Most of those questions probably didn’t get the expected answer.
“That’s probably the biggest and, in my opinion, best piece of coaching advice that I’ve gotten since this has happened,” Riley said. “That will be one of my challenges is to find a way to still be myself but not discount all the lessons from him and the other guys that I’ve worked for and with over the past several years.”
Riley will still to seek counsel from Stoops. Said he recently ran a few things by him. But he’ll also get advice from his other mentor in Norman, new defensive tackles coach and assistant head coach Ruffin McNeill, for whom Riley worked at East Carolina. He said he’s also already leaned on defensive coordinator Mike Stoops, who earned his head coaching chops in eight seasons at Arizona.
“First and foremost, (McNeill) is a guy I trust. The things he and I have been through are pretty unique,” Riley said. “We’ve been through a lot. Lot of good. Lot of fun. But those are things that build relationships. I’ve got a lot of trust. The fact he’s been a head coach, he’s been in this chair, I think it’s important. I think staff chemistry is very important to me, and he and Mike, in particular, really hit it off.”
Bob Stoops is the son of a high school coach, and likely inherited his father’s gift for teaching. Riley, it just so happens, is a quick study. He learned much from Stoops in just two seasons at OU’s offensive coordinator. Such as …
“Just to stay focused on the things that matter,” Riley said. “That with the pressure comes opportunity, and I’m excited for the opportunities that you get at Oklahoma. But we work hard enough at this that we put a lot of internal pressure on ourselves. We understand priorities, and if I can stay focused on those, I think I’ll handle it fine.”
Over his final two seasons, Stoops became a preacher of positivity. Positivity was with him, and he was one with positivity.
Riley exudes that persona.
But he’s not Bob Stoops. Lincoln Riley will be his own man.
“I think he and I are very similar,” Riley said. “I told somebody earlier, had I left and taken a head coach (job) somewhere else, I would have carried a lot of things that he does with me just because I think he’s really good, and I think it’s kind of proven the test of time. His sustained success is — you know, there’s very few that have anything that even (come) close to compare to the kind of career he had at Oklahoma.
“But that’s something I’m comfortable with. I’m comfortable with myself and being myself. I don’t have an ego in this, and say, ‘Well, I’ve got to change things just because I’m the head coach, and I don’t want to seem like I’m just trying to be Bob Stoops 2.0 or whatever you want to call it. I want to use the things I think are right, and if there’s a few things I think fit my personality better or can help us as a team, then I’m certainly not going to hesitate to do those either.”
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “Further Review with Hoover & Rew” and can be heard every weekday on The Franchise in Tulsa from noon to 3 p.m. with co-host Lauren Rew. In Oklahoma City, catch him Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings at 10:25 and every Friday afternoon at 4:05. 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. Visit his personal page at johnehoover.com.