For the sake of everyone’s sanity, I’d like to propose an agreement between fans of the Oklahoma Sooners and the college football media writ large. What I’m suggesting is quite simple, really, and if you’ve partaken of the Discourse in recent weeks, you understand what I’m trying to broker here.
On the one hand, I’d offer that OU fans cut the Lincoln Riley sh*t. And don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talking about – #TBOW, blowing up Twitter mentions at the mere invocation of Riley’s name, et cetera. I inadvertently pointed the swarm in the direction of a couple writers recently, so I’ve seen what it’s like up close. It’s annoying and it’s tired.
As for you, members of the media, this is a two-way street. I’d humbly propose you consider the possibility that football was played in Norman, Oklahoma, before Riley ever set foot there.
You see, even in times like these, we should all be able to agree on certain statements of fact. For example, Riley has a brilliant football mind. He also possesses an innate understanding of the importance of recruiting and how to market a program in the modern landscape of college football.
Riley’s addition to Bob Stoops’ coaching staff in 2015 injected vitality and ambition that seemed to be fading from the team culture. He played an instrumental role as both an assistant and head coach in a stretch that produced six Big 12 titles, four appearances in the College Football Playoff and a record of 77-14. Only the hatingest of haters would try to argue that OU football didn’t benefit from Riley’s seven years as part of the program.
I’d hope we can also agree that Riley took the baton from Stoops in an advantageous position owing to what OU is. That goes for the immediate particulars of the team Riley inherited in 2017 – a squad with a readymade coaching staff, 18 NFL draft picks on the roster and an abundance of experienced players coming off back-to-back conference championships.
But it also goes for the long-term foundation upon which OU football is built. Had Riley started as a head coach at a program of different stature, would he have achieved star status so quickly (if at all)? OU made him chief executive of a blue-chip program at a point in his career in which conventional wisdom would say Riley wasn’t prepared for the job. He proved himself more than capable of sustaining and building on the Sooners’ history of success, but that speaks to both Riley’s coaching acumen and the strength of OU’s program.
With that in mind, I’d submit that we could all use this as a learning experience. If you’re a fan harboring bitterness over the mere fact that Riley chose coaching at USC over OU, time to grow up. There are many great reasons for Riley to opt for Cardinal and Gold over Crimson and Cream – including warm weather, a campus within spitting distance of one of the most fertile recruiting bases in the country, obscene money and a level of autonomy bordering on absolute.
And, if it’s not too bold, the pundit class might want to consider the possibility that hiring a new coaching staff was more opportunity than crisis for OU. Yes, Riley is a proven commodity as a head coach, while Brent Venables is not. However, after watching Riley’s team play last year, let’s not act like Oklahoma couldn’t do better than that.
The Sooners can point to nearly a century of winning as proof that they know how to hire good coaches and run a successful program. In Venables, the Sooners landed one of the most respected assistants in the sport, a coach whose name came up regularly for high-profile openings in the past. He also happens to be intimately familiar with OU football already, and you could make a good case he has assembled a superior coaching staff from top to bottom versus the group on the sidelines a year ago.
In closing, I firmly believe this proposal offers an opportunity for lasting peace – or less obnoxiousness, at least. And when OU is thriving five years from now, we can happily revisit this discussion.