Lincoln Riley stepped into the spotlight at The Star in Frisco for the first time as the head coach of Oklahoma.
“A couple months ago, didn’t obviously think I would be here doing this at this time,” Riley said during Big 12 Media Day on Monday.
Bob Stoops is usually the one fielding the questions during Media Day when talking Oklahoma football. However, Stoops won’t be on the sidelines this season after announcing his retirement last month. The head coaching duties now fall on Riley, who served as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach the last two years.
No pressure taking over for one of the most accomplished head coaches in the program’s history.
“He was very, very good to me in the last several years, helped me to feel prepared, I think, as you could for this position and being a first-time head coach,” said Riley. “I’ve learned a lot from him.”
It was definitely a learning experience for Riley which will continue once the season kicks off into high gear. Stoops will still be around as a resource to bounce ideas off of.
“One of the most impressive things to me was he always had a great sense, I thought, for the pulse of the team, which I think is so important for the head coach,” said Riley. “I thought there were times when, even as a staff, we didn’t totally agree with him, but looking back on it, he just had a unique sense of that. So had some great conversations with him about that and kind of how he developed that. He was, in my opinion, one of the best to ever do it.”
As if there wasn’t enough pressure of replacing the Stoops and his legacy at Oklahoma, the Sooners are preseason favorites to win the Big 12, which would be their third straight conference title. Is Riley feeling the pressure?
“Not really,” he replied. “Thrilled going into the season. I feel we have a very, very strong team coming back with some new exciting young players that we’re excited to infuse our team with. Obviously, a very, very demanding schedule that you get every year in the Big 12, and another defending nonconference schedule just like we play at OU every single year that we’re really looking forward to.”
The Sooners will once again be loaded going into the season, led by Heisman Trophy candidate Baker Mayfield at quarterback. They’ll have to reload at running back with the departures of Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon now set to play on Sunday’s in the NFL. The Sooners did hit big on the recruiting trail by signing two of the top high school running backs in the country in Trey Sermon out of Marietta, Georgia and Mansfield’s Kennedy Brooks.
“We’re going to be open minded about it,” said Riley. “It’s as wide open as it can be. We’ll play the best guy whether it’s one guy getting most of the carries, two guys like last year, or even as much as three or four.”
Mayfield finished third in the Heisman voting last year and also a preseason pick on All-Big 12 team. However, the Sooners signal-caller had some offseason issues after being arrested earlier this year in Arkansas for public intoxication. Of course, the viral video of Mayfield being tackled by a police officer didn’t help the Heisman campaign.
Mayfield was ordered to do 35 hours of community service. Instead of treating it as punishment, he found it both rewarding and humbling.
“Community service has been a great thing for me,” said Mayfield. “Not just the fact I was told to do 35 hours. I think I’ve truly been able to make a difference, and it’s made a difference in me, that I can go out and help.”
Riley added that Mayfield “made one bad mistake and learned from it.”
On the field, the conference title is expected to be Bedlam between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. Both are the preseason picks to battle it out at Jerryworld in December. Two Oklahoma teams fighting for the Big 12 title in Texas? Sounds crazy but it could happen.
As for their new head coach, Riley is embracing the challenges and expectations going into his first year at the helm in Norman.
“I’m comfortable with myself and being myself,” said Riley. “I don’t have an ego in this, and say, well, I’ve got to change things just because I’m the head coach and I don’t want to seem like I’m just trying to be Bob Stoops 2.0 or whatever you want to call it.”
Oklahoma begins the season on September 2 against UTEP at Memorial Stadium in Norman, Oklahoma.