Going Long with Lincoln Riley: Part II

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Mike Houck
By Mike Houck
Assistant A.D. / Strategic Communications
JUNE 15, 2017

NORMAN — It's been 222 months since the Oklahoma football program has had a head coach not named Bob Stoops. OU's all-time wins leader shocked the sports world last Wednesday when he announced he was retiring after an illustrious 18-year career that produced 10 Big 12 Conference championships, 37 first-team All-Americans, 83 NFL Draft picks, a 101-9 (.918) home record and a national title.

Stoops' replacement is 33-year-old Lincoln Riley, an offensive mastermind from the West Texas town of Muleshoe (population 4,975) who spent the last two seasons as OU's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Winner of the 2015 Frank Broyles Award as the nation's top assistant, Riley is the youngest head man among FBS programs, and his life has been a whirlwind since being named OU's 22nd head coach.

Somewhere among throngs of recruiting calls, on-campus recruiting visits, countless media interviews and player and staff meetings, Riley took time to knock out the following two-part Q&A that hits on a wide variety of topics. This marks the second of two installments of the Q&A. Part I


Q: The football program has obviously had major success your two years here, but the OU athletics department as a whole has been phenomenal with seven national championships and other significant achievements during that time. Can you speak to that success and to joining the talented group of head coaches here?
A: Joe Castiglione and President Boren have created an athletics department that — it's amazing how everybody is on the same page and how, even though we're all different teams and different sports, it feels like it's one big team. You see football players at basketball games, softball players at baseball games and it's kind of just like one big family. I think the expectation level to play well and to do it the right way carries over from team to team. Our guys get motivated when they see our men's golf team win a national championship, or our gymnastics teams or our men's tennis team. You see the baseball team make a nice run, the basketball teams are doing well. I think that motivates the other teams. I'm excited to join that group of head coaches here. I have a group in which I can pick their brains. Joe does a great job of creating an environment to allow that to happen, and all the coaches have been great so far in reaching out. I know they'll be there for me and I'll be there for them to help and support in any way.

"I know you're right there with us every step of the way and I appreciate you and I'll give you everything I have."
— Lincoln Riley to Sooner Nation

What's most endearing about Oklahoma to you and your family?
I think just how quickly we were welcomed when we got here. When you move around in this business, sometimes you're at places where you feel like it takes you a while to become one of them or you're still maybe the outsider for a while. From the first day we've felt at home. The best thing about this state is the people. They're passionate, they're real, they're genuine and we've loved every minute here.

What's your best athletic talent besides throwing a football?
That's a good question. Probably water skiing and golf.

What's your water skiing background?
We were lake people in the summer when I was growing up. We weren't a family that went different places every year; we had our one lake getaway to Lake LBJ outside of Marble Falls, Texas. That was always one of our favorite places. So I grew up skiing with my cousins and my brother. We would just ski all day; loved it.

Best non-athletic talent?
Probably my memory.

How does that benefit you in your job?
Just being able to recall certain situations from years back, or a certain play, or maybe something somebody did defensively years back. It's funny; maybe something you haven't thought about in five years and then a situation comes up that's similar and you're able to dial back a memory, remember a lesson and have something that helps you in the current situation. That happens a lot.

Food of choice?
I love steak. I think that's almost mandatory in Oklahoma and West Texas. I like a little bit of everything. I'm always up for trying something new, but if I had one meal left, a good steak would definitely be up there.

You're on a long, solo drive on a recruiting trip. What music groups are you listening to?
A little bit of everything. I love music, but I don't know if there's just one type that I gravitate toward. I'll listen to everything from country music, to classic rock, to new rock to rap. I mean anything. I just like good music. If it's good music, or catchy or has a good story to it, then I'm usually game.

Best concert you've ever attended?
It was just a few weeks ago. Garth Brooks in Kansas City. We ran up there for one evening and saw him. I know about his allegiances, but my man can put on one crazy, good concert. It was unbelievable.

What have been your biggest takeaways from each of the three head coaches for whom you've worked?
Mike (Leach at Texas Tech) was a big influence in terms of offensive identity and believing in what you do, and also in terms of not being afraid to think outside the box. Just simply giving me an opportunity at a young age was another way of him thinking outside the box and not being scared to challenge the status quo.

Ruffin (McNeill at East Carolina) was great because of the relationships with his players. He got more out of players than I think anybody I've ever been around. He was just kind of magical around those guys and had real genuine relationships.

And Bob (Stoops) was the great manager. He just saw it all, had a great feel for the pulse of the team, was always in control. He always made it look easy, honestly.

There were many other things from all of them. They're all so different, so it's been good to have different perspectives on how to get it done.

Coach Stoops is staying in Norman and has said he'll be there for you if you ever need his support or input. How much do you think you'll lean on him and in what areas?
I'll lean on him a lot. I may have to pay his cell phone bill.

I've got a great resource there and somebody who, when big decisions or things come up, why not use him as a sounding board, or get his opinion on them? I've still got to be myself and I've still got to be the one to make the decisions, but I trust him, his judgment and obviously his experience here. I certainly see him being in that mentor/advisor type role for me and I know he wants to do it. I can't think of anyone better I would have to do that.

Knowing that you've got a different roster each year with potentially different areas of strength, how important is it to be flexible and creative scheme wise? And do you consider yourself good at that?
I think you have to be good at it. It's not like if we have a player and don't like him that you can just drop him and go sign another guy the next day. Part of it is recruiting the kind of people you want, but with the way we're limited in recruiting these days, the amount of contact we can have and the ways we can evaluate these guys, you don't always know 100 percent what you're getting. So I do think you've got to be willing to adapt. You've got to have your core beliefs, but still do what fits these guys the best. It's something we try hard to be good at.

If you could have dinner with any four people, alive or not, who would you choose (and why)?
Wow. That's a hard one. (Former OU athletics director) Donnie Duncan is definitely one of them. My relationship with him and how much of a mentor he was to me makes him a no-brainer for this list. And my dad would be at that dinner, because of his guidance and always being there for me and raising me the right way. Really, both of my parents.

I've got so many good options, it's just hard to narrow it down. I'd want some entertainment, so (OU Vice President and Dean of Students) Clarke Stroud has to be there. Gotta have Clarke there, definitely Clarke. I love that dude. He has one of the best personalities of anyone I've ever met and always, no matter what, can make you laugh. And the other one would be Coach (Bill) Belichick. I just love the way he runs his football team. I've been out to New England a couple times the last few years and spent some time with him. Not that we have some big, strong relationship. We don't. I just admire the way he runs his team, how organized he is, how well he clearly communicates to his players and how much sustained success he's had. He's really able to keep his eye on the ball and his eye on the priorities.

Anything you want to say to the fans?
I'd just like to say it's been a great two-year run so far and I'm thrilled for this new role. I'm very thankful and appreciative for all the well-wishes and support so far. Everything we do here will always be a team effort and every part of it is important. The players are important, the coaches, the staff, the administration, and you guys are just as important as anybody to everything we do; from recruiting, to things for our current players, to game day, to our success. I know you're right there with us every step of the way and I appreciate you and I'll give you everything I have.

Riley, Stoops
Lincoln Riley and Bob Stoops prior to the 2015 game at Tennessee.

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