FRISCO, Texas (AP) – Lincoln Riley never expected this.
Two months ago, he was the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma. On Monday, the 33-year-old Riley was center stage representing the preseason league favorites as the youngest head coach in the Bowl Subdivision less than six weeks after Bob Stoops’ surprise retirement following 18 seasons, 10 conference titles and a national championship with the Sooners.
“It’s been probably best described as whirlwind,” Riley said. “Tough to describe kind of all the emotions that went into that day and that decision, and still a little bit of a dream for me.”
Riley said he feels prepared to be a first-time head coach after time spent the past two seasons as the offensive coordinator for Stoops, who will continue to be a resource for the new coach. Stoops is now a special assistant to athletic director Joe Castiglione.
There is also continuity with the rest of the staff intact and the addition of former East Carolina head coach and former Texas Tech assistant Ruffin McNeill as defensive tackles coach and assistant head coach.
“It’s made it definitely a lot easier on me when I think about all I’ve done,” Riley said. “We felt like there was so much good going on with Oklahoma football that I think coach (Stoops) said it best. He didn’t want to derail that. He wanted to continue that.”
The Sooners have won more Big 12 titles than any other team. They are favored to win a third straight title behind Heisman Trophy finalist Baker Mayfield, the preseason Big 12 offensive player of the year who has thrown for 7,665 yards and 76 touchdowns in his two seasons at Oklahoma.
“It’s a little bit different having a different coach, but at the same time nothing has changed,” standout safety Steven Parker said. “Coach Riley is a great guy, we know what he’s all about and we know that he’s going to put us in the best position to win.”
Orlando Brown, the Oklahoma left tackle who allowed only one sack in 659 snaps last season, described Riley as “real personable” to the players.
“I think that helps since he’s so close to us in age. His attitude and mentality, he gets us as players and he’s a ton of help off the field,” Brown said. “Him sitting down and talking to us as leaders, I’ve had a ton of one-on-one talks with him it’s great.”
Stoops’ unexpected absence from the annual midsummer gathering was noted in opening remarks by Commissioner Bob Bowlsby, who described the league “as poorer for not having Bob Stoops” as a head coach.
“It’s hard to lose a guy, number one, what he stood for, not just for Oklahoma, but for the Big 12,” TCU coach Gary Patterson said. “It’s hard when you lose somebody that you stood across the field from that you had respect for.”
Bowlsby had an opportunity to visit with Stoops when both were at a memorial service in Iowa over the weekend.
“I think he feels very good about the timing of moving away from the game,” Bowlsby said. “And I think he feels very good about Lincoln Riley coming in as his successor.”