The Oklahoma Sooners are in better shape today than they were exactly one week ago — the day that Bob Stoops announced his surprise retirement after 18 years at the helm of OU football. Although Stoops was a legendary coach in his own right, Lincoln Riley is better-suited to today’s brand of football.
Let me rewind a little bit so I can explain.
Before 2000 — my redshirt season at Oklahoma State — football coverage was minimal compared to today. Traditional powers like Oklahoma, Texas and USC held the advantage of playing in nationally televised games every Saturday. Teams like Oklahoma State couldn’t compete with with the brand exposure their rivals enjoyed. No brand, no exposure, no recruiting, no success.
Then, at the turn of the millennium, cameras were suddenly everywhere, aimed at the action and ready to pump the signal into (potentially) millions of homes nationwide. This flooded advertising and rights money into football at a snap of the finger and, in turn, finally allowed smaller and less-established schools to have a puncher’s chance at competing with the blue bloods. This exposure led to recruiting success — it leveled the playing field, to a degree.
Speaking of leveling the playing field: all of this helped lead to college football’s great equalizer, the spread offense.
Thanks in large part to ex-Texas Tech coach and luminary Mike Leach, the spread/air raid offense changed football at the college football level (and below) forever. Gone were the days of three yards and a cloud of dust. Now, the M.O. was to spread out the field as much as possible, stretching the defense thin and allowing playmakers to get into open space, and, well, make plays.
Watch Lincoln Riley’s introductory press conference below:
The offense trickled down to high school and middle school levels. For recruits signing this year and beyond, it’s the only style of football they’ve ever known.
Enter Lincoln Riley. Think about what he represents to his players and recruits: he’s young, he leverages social media very well, and he has a flair for the dramatic. Players like that.
A disciple of the spread offense since his playing days at Texas Tech, Riley is clued into the culture surrounding football perhaps more than any other head coach in the nation right now. Players like that, too.
Despite the fact that Riley won’t have a head coaching game under his belt until September, he’s already making waves. Just look at how easily he flipped Putnam City’s Ron Tatum from right out underneath Tom Herman and the Longhorns. Tatum won’t be the last, either — Riley is on the hunt:
Time to hunt down 2 more from the home state…👀
— Lincoln Riley (@LincolnRiley) June 12, 2017
Riley is simply more relatable, exciting, and transparent than Stoops was. Bob was a recruiting master in his own right, but he was a living room closer, a trophy in that case that recruits could look to and be wooed by. He was equal parts coach and father figure. This worked more in 2000 than it does in 2017.
Lincoln, on the other hand, is an open book, easily shows his enthusiasm, and has the kind of flair necessary to stay on top in the college football world. He’s a player’s coach, if you will.
Would Stoops have had success in the next five years? No doubt. Would the Sooners maintain the level they’re currently at in that time period? Maybe†you so. Would OU thrive though? The answer is probably not.
And that’s where Riley will make a difference. He’s already well on his way to thriving as head coach before even stepping on the field. I can’t think of a single part of the program that won’t prosper under Riley — aspects like recruiting, coaching personnel, player development, and branding have been on an upward trajectory in the past few seasons, and I believe they will continue to grow.
Riley has the rare opportunity to take over a program in a fantastic place. It’s not often that title odds stay the same after a coaching change, especially after the departure of a legend like Bob Stoops. The Sooners have the ability to win now. They have an established base of proven talent, and I think that Riley will take that all the way to the bank.
This is an exceptional time in college football history. The combined influence of fast-paced spread offenses and social media has literally changed the game, both on the field and on the recruiting trail. Just as atypical, though, is the fact that a legend is being replaced at one of college football’s blue bloods by a coach nearly half his age and it’s being hailed as ‘seamless.’ That proves how special of a talent Riley is.
This leads me to believe that the Sooners are in a better shape today than they were one week ago. If Riley can win a conference championship in his first year, Oklahoma should be sprinting to the College Football Playoff as a title contender for at least the next decade.