Let’s rewind the clock a few weeks. The Oklahoma Sooners had just seen their undefeated record spoiled in a loss to the Baylor Bears following an open date. Chatter around Lincoln Riley and the vacancy at LSU suddenly started picking up.
For the record, this was my take at the time:
Hey guys, if you think Lincoln Riley is squeezing OU by floating rumors about LSU, the time to do that is not the week after you just lost to Baylor.— Allen Kenney (@BlatantHomerism) November 18, 2021
I had no idea at the time if the whispers were coming from Riley’s camp or LSU. However, my point was that if Lincoln Riley wanted to make a leverage play on OU, as many were suggesting, leaking that he and his representation were flirting with another school when he was supposed to be gearing up for the stretch run of the season was a miscalculation.
In my mind – and I suspect in the mind of OU athletic director Joe Castiglione – that would be an irreparable dereliction of duty, especially given that Riley’s team still had two games left to play in contention for a conference championship and potential College Football Playoff bid. Doesn’t matter if he’s the best multi-talker alive. If he did want to stay in Norman, acquiescing to any of his demands at that point would leave OU at his mercy for as long as he saw fit.
Now that we know Riley was actually screwing around on the side with USC during the season, the same point still stands. Riley isn’t an idiot. He knew that – he didn’t care about crossing any lines because he was already gone.
And, frankly, I can’t fault Riley if he wanted to leave because he would rather coach at USC than OU. You can be an OU fan and get the appeal of the Trojans, particularly when they are offering you an astronomical sum of money to run the show.
I also wouldn’t fault him for leaving because he didn’t feel like he could get what he needed from the OU brass with the Sooners heading to the SEC in the near future. He dropped plenty of hints during his introductory press conference that he wanted more resources from OU than it was willing to give him. If that is the case, I honestly hope Castiglione was paying attention to what he wanted – Riley undoubtedly had a point about any holes in the organization.
But it doesn’t matter if Riley is right. The way he conducted himself over the last four months speaks to the fact that he got entirely too big for his britches. OU won for about 80 years before he ever set foot in Norman. Let USC get held hostage; the Sooners can find the next Lincoln Riley elsewhere.
Speaking of which...
Let’s run down some coaches of interest to this particular fan.
Needs no introduction
Bob Stoops, Tequila salesman and TV personality
Would the winningest coach in OU history be willing to come out of retirement to right the ship for a few years and groom a new replacement? Highly unlikely.
#OUDNA pic.twitter.com/fGlxsMDFy9— Bob Stoops (@CoachBobStoops) November 30, 2021
Stoops will, however, get the chance to add one more win to his record as the interim coach for the bowl game. (This is known in the biz as a “Barry Alvarez.”)
Brent Venables, Defensive Coordinator, Clemson
Stoops’ former lieutenant looks like the favorite here. He played an instrumental role in the Tigers’ ascent since he left OU after the 2011 season.
Big bonus with Venables: In Clemson, he has experience coaching at an SEC school in ACC clothes. On the downside, we don’t know much about what kind of offense he’d run. Also, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney also has kept him among the top-paid assistants in college football, and it’s not clear if Venables really wants to be the head honcho somewhere.
Assumed to be out of play
Dave Aranda, Head Coach, Baylor
Aranda would be my top pick for the job if he is available. Recent reporting about his job status suggest he is not.
Token NFL candidate (Not Kliff Kingsbury)
Joe Brady, Offensive Coordinator, Carolina Panthers
A very long shot, as the consensus seems to be Brady hates recruiting.
You probably remember Brady from the severe beating his offense at LSU administered to the Sooners in the Peach Bowl a few years ago. He won the Broyles Award as the nation’s best assistant for his work molding one of the best units in college football history.
Way off the radar
Marcus Freeman, Defensive Coordinator, Notre Dame
Freeman’s job status just got weird with the news that Brian Kelly is leaving ND for LSU, but that may not matter if OU did come calling. Although Freeman may be a little on the green side for this gig, he has a solid reputation as an up-and-comer. Personally, I’d like to see OU become a leader in promoting minority coaching candidates as well.
One drawback: Freeman’s recruiting connections don’t seem to extend far outside the Midwest.
Shane Beamer, Head Coach, South Carolina
Beamer apparently had many fans in the OU athletic department during his time as an assistant. By all accounts, he is well-liked in the coaching profession. He also has recruiting ties in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic that would be helpful in the SEC.
A 6-6 record in his one year with the Gamecocks represents a big step forward for a program that went 2-8 in 2020 and 4-8 in 2019. On the other hand, it’s just one year. It also seems un-Beamerly to bounce after that long on the job.
Matt Campbell, Head Coach, Iowa State
Luke Fickell, Head Coach, Cincinnati
The resemblance between the two is uncanny, no?
Both are great coaches with clear visions of how they want to build their programs. The talk that neither wants to work outside the Midwest, however, would turn me off.
My pick: Venables
Assuming Aranda is off the board, I’ll take Venables. Yes, it would be comfortable. That doesn’t make it wrong.
Venables would probably retain some holdovers from the existing staff, which would give OU some needed continuity to salvage (potentially) some of the existing roster and recruiting classes. Venables also has the support of former players, coaches and administrators – a big plus when it comes to greasing the wheels for any necessary improvements to the organization as a whole.
In this scenario, Venables would get ample resources to hire a well-regarded offensive coordinator. It is worth noting, though, that defenses have started biting back hard against spread offenses, as OU learned the hard way this season. Having a defensive-minded head coach could trigger a change in the program’s culture at the right moment to stay on the cutting edge of the sport.