Riley Reflects on First 365 Days

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Mike Houck
By Mike Houck
Assistant A.D. / Strategic Communications
JUNE 07, 2018

NORMAN — On June 7, 2017, Bob Stoops shocked the college football world when he retired as head coach of the Oklahoma Sooners. An 18-year run in Norman that produced a school-record 190 wins, 10 Big 12 titles, a national championship, 37 first-team All-Americans and two Heisman Trophy winners had come to an abrupt end.

That same day, 33-year-old Lincoln Riley, a man from the 5,000-person West Texas town of Muleshoe who had no head coaching experience, was promoted to OU's top football post. Just like Stoops' retirement, few could have predicted what would occur over the course of the next year.

Take a look at what Riley and his program accomplished in year No. 1:

  • OU finished with a 12-2 record, qualified for the College Football Playoff as the No. 2 seed and finished the season at No. 3 in both major national polls;
  • The Sooners won the program's 11th Big 12 title and their third in a row;
  • Riley set the OU record for wins by a head coach in a debut season (previous high was 10 by Chuck Fairbanks and Barry Switzer);
  • Riley became just the fifth coach in FBS history with no previous head coaching experience at a four-year college to win at least 12 games in his debut season;
  • OU ranked first nationally in total offense (school-record 579.6 ypg), passing efficiency rating (school-record 202.7), completion percentage (school-record .714) and first downs (361);
  • Also set school records for passing yards per game (361.8) and yards per play (8.3; second most in FBS history);
  • Four Sooners earned first-team All-America honors in Mark Andrews, Orlando Brown, Baker Mayfield and Ogbonnia Okoronkwo;
  • Andrews, Brown and Mayfield made OU the first program to ever produce three unanimous All-Americans on offense in a season;
  • In a landslide, Mayfield became OU's sixth Heisman Trophy winner;
  • Mayfield also won the Maxwell Award, Davey O'Brien Award, Manning Award and Walter Camp Player of the Year Award;
  • Andrews became OU's first winner of the Mackey Award;
  • Mayfield became the fourth Sooner to go No. 1 overall in the NFL Draft, while Andrews, Brown and Okoronkwo were also drafted;
  • Riley's first recruiting class was a consensus top-10 group, and OU's 2019 class is ranked No. 2 nationally as of June 6, 2018.

In the following Q&A, Riley recalls the day he became OU's 22nd head coach, discusses what it's like to be the man in charge, lists his most memorable moments from last season and talks about his biggest regret.


What sticks out in your memory about June 7, 2017?

"A lot does. Talking with Bob (Stoops), going over to meet with Joe (Castiglione), getting a phone call from President Boren. I guess just how the day moved so fast. The thing that might stick out the most is the meeting with the players that afternoon and how they responded to all that had happened that day. And then the meeting with the staff late into the night. Even though it was a hectic time, everybody's support and confidence meant a lot to me that day."

Do you have a favorite one or two on-the-field moments from the past 365 days?

"There were a ton of highlights. Winning our third straight Big 12 Championship was huge, especially the fashion in which we did it. Obviously winning at Ohio State was a great night for OU Football. The Kansas State game was big because we played so poorly in the first half and had to come back against a good football team on the road. We weren't at our best and yet found a way to win. That one was really meaningful, as well."

What will you always remember about the Ohio State game?

"It was an important game, one we put a lot into. I've always taken a lot of pride in being able to play well and win on the road. So to do it against that kind of team and coaching staff, and in an environment like that with the eyes of the world on us, was great. I thought we really outplayed them in the in the first half but just couldn't get enough on the scoreboard. For the guys to hang in there and still have confidence, even when we gave up the touchdown early in the third quarter — we just didn't flinch. I don't think there was one time throughout that whole week and entire night that everyone on our team didn't feel like we were going to win. You could just feel it on the sideline. Our guys just never flinched."

What about off the field?

"That's a little tougher to answer. Signing day was fun, but I'd probably say celebrating the wins with family and staff. That first game was cool with a bunch of my family here. Just getting to share in those moments with family and friends is always special."

Lincoln Riley

Shown here late in OU's 31-16 win at Ohio State, Lincoln Riley set the school record for most wins by a first-year head coach. His 12 victories were two more than the previous record that was held by Chuck Fairbanks and Barry Switzer. 

Is there one thing you would do differently last year if you could?

"Probably just handling the psyche of the team after the Ohio State game. We had a stretch there early in the Big 12 season against Baylor and Iowa State where we just didn't play very well. I don't know if it was just coming off the high of winning such an important road game, but we just weren't at our best and really weren't improving the way that we did early in the season and then late in the season. We were a little stagnant there and I wish I would have handled the group a little better at that time."

When you were promoted to head coach last June you said you felt very prepared for the role. Do you feel even more prepared heading into year two?

"Yeah, in some ways, for sure. Just having been through it now and knowing that if we can do it with those circumstances it gives us the confidence to handle whatever is thrown at you. But the flip side of it is that each year is a different team and there are new challenges. There are new dynamics to work with and you just have to try to figure out what's best for this team. Certainly you learn some lessons and learn how to be more efficient and all of that, but you'll always have those new challenges you have to be ready to adapt to and we'll have them this year, too."

Is being head coach what you thought it would be?

"Pretty close, yeah. Pretty close. I wouldn't say there have been a ton of surprises. You knew there would be a lot more on your plate, and you don't always know which direction it's going to come from. But yeah, it's fun. I enjoy the role, I enjoy the managing part of it, enjoy being at a place we can hire a lot of great people to help make this thing run."

2018 will be your first season at OU without Baker Mayfield. What will you remember most about him?

"Probably just the entire journey, from when I got here to him winning the quarterback job to all the games, which were definitely fun. But probably just the journey, the work behind the scenes, the relationship and trust level that really grew throughout that time. I'll remember those moments probably more than anything; all the success, all the hard times. It's all part of the process to be an elite player and to be a championship team. To enjoy the ride right there with him was a lot of fun."