At Monday’s Big 12 media festivities, Oklahoma Sooners head coach Lincoln Riley took the stage to discuss Kennedy Brooks, Alex Grinch, Austin Kendall’s transfer, the progression of Jalen Hurts and more.
Here’s the transcript of his appearance:
“Thank you, everybody, and what a great venue to host our Big 12, and it’s a place where the Big 12 season will end as well. Always an exciting time of year. This signals the end of summer but the start of a new upcoming season and one that we are very much looking forward to. A lot of changes on our football team obviously that have really got us reenergized and primed to make a run here in 2019.
Start with the defense, probably the biggest change in our defensive program is bringing in Alex Grinch as our defensive coordinator, new scheme defensively. Been excited about how that’s gone from spring into summer, how our players have responded. Certainly know we have to prove it in the fall but eager to play the kind of defense that we feel like should be played at Oklahoma. So looking forward to the changes and results. A lot of new faces on the offensive side of the football with obviously having a new quarterback this year, four new offensive linemen, but return quite a few skilled guys around those players. Should be a great year. We’re very, very excited about it and looking forward to a new challenge with a new group, but that’s one of the best parts about coaching college football.
Thankful for the opportunity to coach at this place and a chance to do it at one of the great conferences in America.”
Q: Lincoln, can you update us on Kennedy Brooks’ status with the team and were you in contact as he went through that?
Riley: “Referring back to the statement we put out, Kennedy was reinstated back to the team late last week. He’s back full-go with our guys. During the process I was not involved at all. Not updated at all. That’s a process that our school takes very seriously and we leave that to the people that their job is to handle that and when they do we take it from there.”
Q: Lincoln, obviously with the big overhaul this spring on the defensive side of the ball, heading into summer practice was there a timeline of where you wanted to be in terms of the defense acclimating to Alex Grinch’s system, and if so where deafening you are in that process and is it a day-to-day kind of thing?
Riley: “I think for us it was first in spring football getting a baseline of schematically what we wanted to do and more importantly starting to understand the mentality that we want to play with defensively and I think Alex and his staff have done a great job setting the foundation with that for our players. When you get to summer you only get eight hours a week with these guys which is not very much. So they’ve got to know what they need to work on so a lot of spring for us was educating them on things we need to do to get better. You can’t get it all done at once, it is a step-by-step process and we do have to get better at it each day. But I think our guys had a good concept of the things they needed to improve on from a mentality standpoint and physical standpoint and learning and understanding schematically what we want to do. I think it’s a process. I think it’s a hungry group. There are a lot of guys that have played a lot of ball and they’re eager to play their very best ball.”
Q: 2015, your first year with the program Oklahoma was first in the league in scoring defense. Last year, Oklahoma was last. Oklahoma won the Big 12 championship both seasons and both seasons in between. How much does defense matter for Oklahoma and winning the Big 12?
Riley: “Matters a great deal. It’s a huge part of your football team. We haven’t played our best defensively consistently through the years but in a lot of big games including the last won in here we’ve played pretty darn good. We’ve got to do that more consistently to make ourselves a better team and we feel like we’ve taken the steps to do that.”
Q: Everyone knows obviously Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray just won the Heisman Trophy, but both those guys had more than one year in the system. How has this process been for Jalen, given that he’s new in the system?
Riley: “It’s certainly been different. He brings game experience that Baker and Kyler did not have when they got here, but also doesn’t have as much experience in the system. It has been quicker but it’s been fun. He’s been eager. There have been things that we do that he’s been able to trace back kind of the roots to different things that he’s done at Alabama or even in high school. So it’s not like you’re starting from scratch. It’s a fun process. He’s a smart kid. He’s eager and works very hard at it, and we have meshed together well.”
Q: You lost Kyler and four NFL offensive linemen. I assume your offense is going to dip. Can your defense arise more than your offense might slip this year?
Riley: “We don’t plan on the offense dipping. The second part of that, we definitely expect our defense to be better. I don’t think there is any doubt. That’s why we have recruited as hard as we have. That’s why we made the changes on the coaching staff that we’ve made. As we feel like there is going to be positive results behind that. What we have been able to see behind the scenes up to this point get you encouraged and excited that both those things will happen. The expectations are very high on both sides of the ball and we feel like we’ve got the right people in place to meet those expectations.”
Q: Nearly 30 of your players on your roster are from the Dallas area including six in 2019. How important is the Dallas area in regards to recruiting here and how difficult is it with TCU here and being equal distance in Texas?
Riley: “It’s a critical area for us and it has been historically and even maybe more so in the last few years. It’s almost like our second home base, really, the state of Oklahoma and then the Metroplex and those are absolutely critical for us, for the distance, the number of games that we play here each year, the talent, the coaching that you get here in the Metroplex area. We devote a lot of our resources to this area, a lot of our coaches are here many, many days throughout the year. We’ve got a good familiarity and trust with the coaches in this area, so a lot of respect for this area. We have had so many of our great players have come from here and we certainly hope that can continue.”
Q: First game of the season you’ve got Houston out of conference, but they’ve got a new head coach who you have played who knows you well. What kind of challenges does that pose for you?
Riley: “Yeah, a lot of challenges. Houston is a really good football team. Has been a really good program for the last several years, have a lot of respect for the players they have, one of the best returning quarterbacks in the country, without a doubt, and a lot of talented players around him. I’ve got a ton of respect for Coach Holgorsen. We have known each other for a long time. We’ve coached against each other here for a number of years. He does a tremendous job. He has at all the stops, and I am sure he will do so at Houston. I’m sure it will be a tough opener for us.”
Q: Coach, jumping off of what he asked, 16 of your players are wide receivers, 11 from the state of Texas. Is there something in particular that makes wide receivers from the state of Texas especially good or well-prepared?
Riley: “I think the coaching in the state of Texas is extremely good, along with great athletes and great resources. That’s a pretty at this good combination. There have been some really strong years like the year before of receivers in this area and it’s been an area that we have been able to attack. I think you combine that with, you know, having a product that has made these guys excited, they have wanted to come play at Oklahoma, wanted to come catch balls and have a chance to play with great quarterbacks and it’s been the perfect storm. Those guys have certainly produced for us and we’ve got many young ones on our roster that we’re counting on producing for us in the future.”
Q: You mentioned the offense not taking a dip. How do you reinforce expectations with that University and your whole team given this one of Big 12 Championships and now College Football Playoff experiences?
Riley: “That’s always a challenge. It’s complacency, not letting it set in and for returning guys not assuming it’s going to happen because it did before and for new guys not assuming it’s going to happen because the players did it before, when I wasn’t there. It’s a new team, a new challenge. I think the expectations and standard of Oklahoma football are so high that it almost helps a little bit in a funny way.
It almost helps you refocus in that, yeah, the last four were great, but what about the fifth one? That’s the mindset around the program. I think we’ve got a good culture. I think our guys understand and have a healthy respect for how difficult each and every championship has been, each and every win has been. We have had to play our tails off and coach our tails off to get it done, and that’s how it should be in the Big 12 and to make another run will be just as difficult if not more difficult and it will take everything we have.”
Q: Lincoln, you guys have found yourself in some sort of interesting spots with the Targeting Rule. I feel like the last couple years and maybe all football teams have because the rule is up for so much interpretation. What would you change about the Targeting Rule going into this fall?
Riley: “It will be interesting. The changes we’re going to implement and what we say at this time next year. I’ve been a fan of the intent of the rule without a doubt. I’ve been a fan of protecting players and there is no doubt I think there has been a lot of good. I think players it’s something they think about now, which needed to happen.
I have not been a fan of how severe the penalties have been, especially for the gray area ones and I’m excited to see the new rule changes we have and how they’re implemented and do they have the effect that we want them to have. But I think in a perfect world if we can find the balance between still making it a big emphasis, protecting players, but also not being reckless about tossing players out of this game or part of the next game because of a foul, if we can find common ground I think we will be in a good place.”
Q: Coach, I just want to ask about the Austin Kendall transfer situation. What cause your views to evolve on that and allow him to come to West Virginia and would you have handled that any differently?
Riley: “I was always going to let him go to West Virginia. That was no issue. That’s part of these new rules is we can’t restrict them from going anywhere. My contention was I had a concern about a player being able to transfer and be immediately eligible the very next year in our league. I don’t think that’s healthy for the league. In the end, I think my personal relationship with Austin and his family, the fact that he took a chance and came out to Oklahoma when I first got there, the fact that I was kind of with him every step of the way, I think the personal side of it overtook maybe more the business side of it from my head and my views on it haven’t changed.
I still don’t really agree with it but I realize in that moment I wanted to do the best thing for the kid and I couldn’t get past the personal side of it. I hope it’s something we keep looking at because I think we’ve got to protect our league on that and I think that’s something we’ve got to look out for each other on.”
Q: Been asking some coaches today about the mentality of win now, win at all costs versus the patience it takes to build a culture, a lasting culture. A little bit different perspective for you because the culture was already there. Is there still that balance that exists for you about, because Barry Switzer called it “feeding the monster” you’ve got an entirely different kind of pressure on you.
Riley: “That’s a good question. I think there’s got to be expectations to do it each and every year. I think the goal is going to be to do it each and every year but you’ve got to be reasonable, too. I think as a football coach whether you take over a program that has had some down years or you are taking over a program that I was lucky enough to, that was already having a lot of success, I think the only thing you can ask for from the fan base, decision makers, anybody, is to understand that every now and then a tough year is going to happen. I have never shied away from that at Oklahoma from day one. I think as long as it is within reason then you understand it and I was very fortunate with my situation.”
Q: I wanted to ask you about the Big 12 overall. It’s always been known or has been known as a tremendous offensively putting up pinball numbers. Do you think with the changes in head coaches recently, do you think that the Big 12 will still be known for that?
Riley: “Good question. I think there will always be really good offenses in this league. I do. But I think the league will continue to evolve. I think there are too many good coaches, too many good players, too many programs that maybe had been down for a few years that are showing a lot of promise right now. You could name several right now off the bat in this league. I think it’s healthy for the league. I think great offense will be played in this league. I think great defense will be played in this league and I think the future for this league is as bright as any league in the country. I really do.”