But before we peppered Stoops with summer questions both usual (did you hear the news out of the SEC?) and unusual (how have you handled your own sons’ recruitment?), we patiently observed as Stoops fixed on one of the classroom televisions and reveled in the Oklahoma Sooners’ national championship in men’s golf.
A week later, Stoops was gone, retired as the OU head coach.
Now, fast forward 365 days, and for the first time in 19 years, Stoops isn’t on the Sooner Caravan.
Fittingly, Lincoln Riley walked into the very same room that Stoops walked out of one year ago and concluded his first year. The transition (if there ever was one), is complete.
At first, Riley couldn’t remember exactly what he was doing on that day 52 weeks ago when Stoops was pulling for the golf team and making his final public appearance.
Eventually, he did recall.
“I remember now: I was sitting on my back patio living and dying,” he said. “I was yelling at Brad Dalke when he hit that chip too far, and then I was cheering like any other fan when he made the putt. Yeah, I was sitting in my back yard.”
But did Riley know then, seven days before Stoops made it official, that he would be the next head coach at Oklahoma?
“That day?” he asked. “I knew it was a thought at that point, but I didn’t think it was that close as it ultimately was.”
Stoops apparently had confided in Riley that he would soon be on his way out, and that Riley would be quickly approved for a significant promotion. But Riley didn’t realize how soon his future would arrive — and that was probably a good thing.
“I found out that Wednesday. I found out that day (June 7, the day Stoops stepped down),” Riley said. “The plan was to announce it (the following) Friday. Then, as things do in this world, often, it began to circulate a little bit and everybody made the decision to get in front of it and go ahead and do it that day. Honestly, there was no time to plan, no time to settle thoughts.
“I didn’t even — I think I scribbled down like 10 words on a piece of paper, things I wanted to remind myself to say. I tied my tie going down the elevator to come over there to see you guys (for the press conference). I was kind of just living in the moment a little bit.”
After successfully navigating his first Big 12 Media Day, his first OU media day, his first training camp, his first game, his first road game, his first big win, his first loss, his first Red River Rivalry, his first Bedlam game, his first Big 12 championship, his first trip to the College Football Playoff, his first recruiting class, his first National Signing Day, his first spring practice, his first Red/White Game and his first NFL Draft as head coach, Riley on Thursday officially recorded his last “first” — his first Sooner Caravan.
He’s an old veteran now, right?
“I don’t feel like an old veteran yet,” he said with a laugh. “Nah, it’s … you get more settled in. Not comfortable. You never get comfortable coaching at a place like this. But you do get more settled in with the challenges that come up and all that’s on your plate. I’ve gotten a lot better as this year has gone on. I most certainly learned a lot and still have plenty to learn. It’s been fun.”
Was there anything that came up during the past 12 months that caught Riley unaware or showed that he has a lot to learn about being the CEO of a multimillion dollar corporation like OU football?
“I wouldn’t say there has been any of it I thought, ‘This is just not me,’ or not natural, but I think you try to get better at all of it. I still have a lot to get better at it.”
Thursday’s press gathering was much the same as last year, the usual suspects, with few if any faces Riley didn’t recognize. Similarly, there were few questions he didn’t handle like a pair of well-made West Texas cowboy boots: comfortably.
- With the Major League Baseball draft on Monday, what are his concerns about the looming potential departure of projected starting quarterback Kyler Murray?
“Same as they have been,” Riley said. “I don’t really care a whole lot about what happens in the draft. I’ve had good conversations with Kyler, his family and I fully expect him to be with us. I really don’t have any worries about it.”
- After being in college football for 15 years or so, he was elevated to head football coach of a blue blood program like Oklahoma — and then the U.S. Supreme Court legalized sports wagering. Great timing, sure. With all the potential pitfalls facing college athletes, does it give him reason for worry?
“It does,” Riley said. “We thought this might be coming, so we’ve taken a few, I don’t know if precautions is the right word, but we’ve taken a few steps before this happened to go ahead and start to educate our players on it. But we’re going to have to do more. I think everybody’s a little nervous about it. It’s uncharted waters. There’s going to be some repercussions from it that maybe we can’t predict right now.”
- What does he think of the NCAA’s decision to limit sideline personnel with communication headsets at 20?
“It’s a strange rule to me, because if you want to limit all the off-the-field personnel, then just put a cap on how many people you can have,” Riley said. “We make all these kind of silly rules to me that are difficult to enforce. You’ve hired people to do certain things, then in the middle of it you change what they can do. I don’t like it. Seems out of sequence to me. If you want to fix it, then just fix it. Quit beating around the bush.”
- And, of course, does Riley have any opinion about Thursday’s news that the Big 12 Conference has agreed to assign the Sooners’ first three games to kickoff times of 11 a.m. (Florida Atlantic), noon (UCLA) and 11 a.m. (at Iowa State)? Oh, yes.
“Yeah, I had to talk to Joe (Castiglione) to blow off some steam before I came in here,” Riley said. “It is what it is. Some years you’re gonna get a good draw and some years you’re not. Don’t agree with it, but at the same time we’re not the only ones making the call on it. I think when you’ve got the premier team in your league, there at least needs to be some equity. You don’t need to have a string of three or four of them, which we’re going to have.
“Listen, whenever they tell us to kick off, at 7 a.m. or 7 p.m., we’re going to be there ready to play. But there’s other things like recruiting, being good for your fan base, opposing fan base, the team traveling here — you’ve got UCLA traveling here through two time zones to get here early. We’re going to be kicking off at 10 a.m. for their fans. It’s one of our marquee non-conference games. That’s not great for recruiting. You wish things were better, but it doesn’t always go your way. That’s part of it. We’ll be ready to play.
“I’m glad we did all those visits (at the spring game) since they gave us a bunch of 11 a.m. kickoffs.”
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “The Franchise Drive” every weeknight from 6-8 on The Franchise in Oklahoma City and Tulsa. Catch him 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.