With the cancellation of all spring sports in the 2020 NCAA season, the shift to a full-time focus on looking ahead to the 2020-21 college football season is in full swing even earlier than normal.
Yesterday, Oklahoma head football coach Lincoln Riley spoke with The Franchise Players right here on 107.7 The Franchise as well as on ESPN’s First Take.
Here is a recap/summary of what Riley had to say on a medley of topics, with some thoughts sprinkled throughout – starting with his appearance on The Franchise:
Q: What are the origin of the eyeball emoji tweets?
“It’s something we started doing several years back,” Riley said. “It got a little more attention like everything when I became the head coach here. It’s a fun little thing in recruiting that we started using and I think our recruits and fans and all that have enjoyed it.”
The eyeball emoji tweets have been wildly popular and it’s one of the small aspects of Lincoln Riley’s recruiting tactics that we actually get to see. We’ve seen other coaches and teams around the country start to do something similar when they land a big recruit, which goes to show the effectiveness it really does have.
Q: How creative has the team had to get during this time, and what has been the biggest challenge for the coaching staff?
“We’ve had to get creative,” Riley said. “We’ve set up home offices for the entire staff…in some ways it’s been business as usual. But not getting to see and interact with the players has certainly been one of the hardest things.”
Lincoln Riley’s ability and willingness to adapt to the changing of times with the younger generations of players really helps him and OU during this tough time where the team isn’t able to be together. He made it clear that this isn’t fun for anybody, and that missing spring ball was really tough for everyone, but acknowledged that every team around the country is in the same boat and believes that they are staying the course well which is all you can ask for with the way things are right now.
Q: You have a mostly veteran team with no new coordinators, how well do you feel you guys are prepared for this compared to other teams around the country?
“I think it could be an advantage for us but we got to handle it the right way. We have to take the steps necessary – coaches, players, staff and everybody to do their part and get themselves ready for whatever time that we are back together and continue to improve ourselves during this time,” said Riley.
Riley went on to say he knows the team isn’t “ready-made” but he knows that no team around the country is, and believes that with not introducing new coordinators and having a lot of key pieces back that the Sooners are in good shape. Somewhat interestingly, he didn’t touch on the QB situation in this answer despite the fact that it will be a first-time starter with either Spencer Rattler (the presumed starter) or Tanner Mordecai. He even mentioned that he would not feel as confident had this happened with last year’s team – also an interesting comment.
Q: What are you actually allowed to do with the players right now?
“With the players we get four hours a week we can spend with them on virtual meetings and we can use those with our discretion,” Riley said. “As far as their physical workouts and all that we aren’t allowed to monitor those or supervise or watch those virtually.”
This is the thing that is probably most challenging for coaches right now in my mind. They have no choice but to trust their players to continue to work out and stay in shape on their own, which I am sure a lot of players will but it will be very easy to not work out regularly in this time – especially considering the closure of essentially every gym right now. Riley said they were granted permission to send some guys some basic workout equipment for stuff to do at home, which will help, but still obviously isn’t the same as working with Bennie Wylie day-to-day at the OU facilities by any stretch.
Q: Is the strength and conditioning aspect of all this your biggest concern right now with the team?
“The weights of the guys are one of the bigger concerns because there are always a handful of guys you want to gain weight and some you want to lose weight,” Riley said.
Lincoln did express some concern with this mainly touching on the weights of the players relative to what their diets are going to be like at home all this time – which is certainly a fair point. He also started off by saying that the academic side of this is a little worrisome just because most of the guys have never done any kind of online schooling before, but commended the OU professors for doing a good job on such a short notice and that he thinks that is still going well.
Q: How much does missing spring ball affect the QB battle between Spencer Rattler and Tanner Mordecai?
“Well you certainly would have rather had it, but there are other years where it would have been more damaging,” Riley said. “We’ll be excited to get reps on tape and evaluate and resume this thing when we can. Obviously the calendar and timeline will be determined as we continue to learn more what the preparation time we’ll have for the season looks like.”
Riley has been consistent in this period that he feels great with where he is at with Rattler and Mordecai. Everyone assumes Rattler will be named the starter in the time leading up to the season opener just as Kyler Murray and Jalen Hurts were the previous two years, so Lincoln almost surely knowing who he’s going with has to make him rest a bit easier on this. He also reiterated he isn’t concerned with the quality of quarterback play in 2020 despite missing the spring ball.
Q: What message would have for fans today sitting and waiting for OU football during this time with the Coronavirus?
“More than anything I hope everyone appreciates what they have and the opportunities they have to enjoy Oklahoma football…we are all very blessed to be a part of this program,” Riley said.
Now let’s shift over to what Lincoln had to say with Stephen A. Smith and Max Kellerman on ESPN’s First Take:
Q: What is your reaction to the Dallas Cowboys showing some interest in Jalen Hurts?
“It’s no surprise. Jalen has been able to show his skill set over a number of years with four different offensive coordinators,” Riley said.
Lincoln went on to say he sees a lot of similarities in current Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott and Jalen, which certainly makes sense given their skill sets. Hurts’ ability to play well and win at Alabama AND at Oklahoma, two very different offensive styles, would really be the biggest selling point on Hurts right now in a lot of people’s eyes which is what Lincoln seemed to point out most strongly when discussing his future in the NFL here.
Q: How optimistic are you that there will be a college football season and do you believe there should be?
“I think it’s impossible to predict when we’ll have a season, but I am extremely confident that we will have a season at some point,” Riley said. “We live in a great country and we’ll find a way to band together to beat this and I do feel like we’ll be playing football here at some point very shortly.”
This is obviously the biggest question right now – will there even be a season? It is a valid question and certainly a concern, but I mostly agree with the first part of Lincoln’s statement as far as right now it is impossible to say for certain one way or the other. I tend to think I would be really surprised if there was no season at all, thinking an altered schedule or a pushed back season is more likely – but who really knows. Nobody really thought March Madness would be canceled altogether either.
Q: How do you see yourself as an influence in the game of football both college and professional relative to your impact on how offense is played?
“We’ve been very lucky here. We’ve been able to combine a really good staff with a lot of continuity with outstanding players. Our quarterbacks get a lot of the headlines but we’ve had probably the top offensive line in the country for several years running right now, we’ve had a lot of great running backs and a great run of receivers and tight ends,” Riley said. “Where that puts us in terms of the NFL and offenses in general…I don’t know we just try to do the best we can here and enjoy doing it.”
Lincoln Riley’s name is going to come up for NFL coaching vacancies every single offseason for the rest of his time at OU. He’s young and innovative, with the ability to relate to players and score loads of points which is the trend of the NFL right now. I mean, Kliff Kingsbury got an NFL head coaching gig after being fired by Texas Tech. I’d be willing to bet there are a lot of NFL teams who would fire their coach right now if it meant they would get Lincoln Riley. Unsurprisingly, Lincoln took the humble route here on how much of an impact he’s personally had on the sport in general, but inside he knows it’s large.
Q: Why do you think Baker Mayfield had a step back in his second NFL season?
“I think Baker would be the first to admit and he knows he’s gotta play better,” Riley said. “I know the kind of competitor and player he is, he’s hungry and he’s had a tremendous offseason so far. I know he’s very excited about the new staff coming in and being able to have some continuity with some of these players especially his receivers coming back.”
Everyone knows Baker Mayfield and Lincoln Riley have a special relationship and that Riley will always stand up for his guy. Everyone with eye balls knows Baker had a disappointing year two, and his ability to bounce back in 2020 could define the trajectory of his career. Also something that Riley touched on here that was interesting was he seemed to imply that at OU everything was set up so great, with great players and great coaches. Where the Browns are, let’s just say it, typically a mess. Lincoln put it in a lot nicer terms than that, but that’s certainly a valid thing to say.
Q: What did you see from Kyler Murray in his first season in the NFL and what do you expect in year two?
“I thought by the end of the season they were easily one of the top offenses in the NFL. It’s been fun to see those guys take that system to the NFL and have such immediate success and they played their very best at the end and so, knowing Kyler, I would fully expect them to get better and certainly use his new weapon in Hopkins and I think year two will be much cleaner,” Riley said.
Agree completely with Lincoln here. I have been extremely high on what Kyler Murray would be the NFL since around the middle of his Heisman season. It always blew my mind people would fixate so much on his size, and it wasn’t too much of a factor in his first year which was fantastic. Question now will be can he avoid the sophomore slump that Baker went through. Lincoln made it clear he doesn’t believe you need to be tall to be a good quarterback, especially when you are an “elite” athlete like Murray.
Q: What makes you confident you can win in a system that has you throw the ball so much?
“I think some of it is in how a lot of us coaches were brought up. We all started at Texas Tech which is where a lot of this got started,” Riley said. “What’s made us especially explosive here (OU) is that we’ve been able to take some of that passing game that we’ve had and add in one of the top rushing attacks in the country and it’s created a lot of opportunities from a play action perspective.”
Lincoln was really nice here, because he could have really dove into the narrative that OU just throws the football every single play when that is simply not true. Max Kellerman really implied with this question that Riley likes to throw it “70 plus” times a game when that is extremely incorrect. In 2017, OU ran the ball 39 times a game to 31 passes. In 2018, it was 37 runs a game to 29 passes. And then last year, with Jalen Hurts, it was 40 runs a game compared to 27 passes. The Sooners try to beat you down with the run, and then beat you over the top with CeeDee Lamb, Marquise Brown, Dede Westbrook, etc. Riley could have really bullied Kellerman for a bad question here, but he took the nice route.
Make sure to stay plugged into 107.7 The Franchise both on the air and on the web every single day for coverage for all things OU football as we progress throughout the spring and summer toward the 2020 season.