Riley isn’t going to be compared to Obi-Wan Kenobi of Star Wars fame too often, but the look from OU coach Bob Stoops said it all: “help us, Lincoln, you’re our only hope.”
After spending the last 16 seasons at OU, Stoops’ future is partly in the hands of the 31-year-old who has spent the last five seasons putting the East Carolina offense on the map.
“It’s an absolute honor to be here,” Riley said. “It’s a little surreal to be here in this environment and this program. It’s something I’ve wanted for a long time. It’s something my wife and I have been very picky about over the last few years. I’ve been blessed to have some opportunities, but we’ve been looking for a lot of specific things ourselves.”
It’s true that Riley has flirted with several other schools in the last few years. But it was going to take something special to get Riley away from Ruffin McNeill, who had shown so much confidence in an unproven commodity back in 2010.
But even McNeill wasn’t going to deter Riley from the Sooners. OU coach Bob Stoops when he called McNeill, the opposite was happening. McNeill was trying to sell Stoops on what Riley brought to the table. Turned out to be a completely unnecessary move.
“It was difficult because I had a really strong relationship with those players,” Riley said. “The people there – Ruffin and I were probably as close as they come. But when Coach (Stoops) offered the job, it probably took one second (to accept).
“It started with a phone call. One that, when that name pops up on your phone, you answer that call.”
It’s crazy to think how long Riley has been in the coaching business considering he’s still only 31 years old. The last 12 years of his life have revolved around the coaching game, seven at Texas Tech and five with ECU.
Under the tutelage of McNeill and Mike Leach, Riley was allowed to blossom. He was allowed to learn on the job. To make mistakes and correct them. He was allowed to call his offense despite being so young.
“That’s rare, but when you look at his background and the fact that Mike had been grooming him there for four years as a student, he knew what he was getting,” Stoops said. “And I look at what kind of experience has it been? Has it been a good or bad experience? Lincoln’s had a lot of good experience at a young age.”
Riley knew he was going to become a coach, but he had no idea it was going to happen this fast. He was 23 when he was hired to be the outside receivers coach at Texas Tech.
Coaching this kind of big-time football was never the dream for Riley. He saw his future, had his plan, had no idea it would take him to Norman.
“I’d always assumed that I would be a high school coach,” Riley said. “That’s what my mind was set on. I wasn’t a big-name recruit. My dad wasn’t a big-name head coach. I had really no ins, I guess you could say.
“I knew I wanted to coach, but it was just, if you know Mike (Leach), you never know where he’s going to be coming from.”
Riley knows where he’s coming from and knows where he wants to go. Right now it has been a rollercoaster ride for Riley and his family.
The recruiting dead period ended midnight EST Thursday morning, and Riley has been going all-out on the trail. He’s learning quickly it’s a different ballgame in Norman, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
“It has been crazy, but it’s been fun,” Riley said. “It’s pretty fun walking into these high school with those two letters on your chest and knowing you have a chance with any player, anywhere, any time.
“The staff’s been great. Cale Gundy’s been instrumental in helping me get around and get my bearings. They’ve got a great recruiting class coming in, and we’ve obviously got a pretty good product, we think, right now to sell.”
OU’s offensive hope rests in the hands of Riley. He’s no Jedi master, but he could be the key to bringing championship No. 8 to the Sooners.