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Oklahoma Sooners Football: Trouble with the curve

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Lincoln Riley’s PR problem at USC prompts unenlightening essay about his time at OU.

NCAA Basketball: Arizona at Southern California Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports

I was really hoping that the last column I wrote about Lincoln Riley and his departure from Oklahoma would be just that – the last column I ever wrote about Lincoln Riley and the Oklahoma Sooners.

I mean, you would think the USC Trojans’ head coach has so much on his plate at his new job that he would want to move on as much as anyone else. The Trojans are preparing for their spring game this weekend. Recruits need wooing. Boosters need handshaking. Bands need leading.

Turns out, however, Riley would have us believe he has been harboring an unbearable amount of regret about how his tenure in Norman ended. So much so that he felt compelled to publish an open letter in the Players’ Tribune explaining the curveball life threw his way.

In addition to a laundry list of wins by the program while he was both an assistant and head coach, the piece included nothing Riley hasn’t already said about his decision. Riley “absolutely own(ed)” that he “could have handled some parts of the situation better” – who’s to say what they were. He closed by letting everyone know about how great things are at USC and that he’s working really hard.

Oddly enough, the timing of Riley’s unburdening came on the heels of a rough couple of weeks at his new gig. First, Josh Conerly – one of the best offensive line recruits in the 2022 class and widely considered a lock for the Trojans – jilted USC at the last minute. Even worse, Conerly signed with Pac-12 rival Oregon and new Ducks head coach Dan Lanning, whose roots at Georgia stand in stark contrast to a coach who left his last job to avoid coaching in the SEC. Then, former OU players Spencer Rattler and Austin Stogner gave Riley’s leadership a less-than-stellar review in an article by Chris Low of ESPN published last week.

Considering the timing and the content, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Riley thinks he has a PR problem related to OU. And where there’s a PR problem in college football, there’s a recruiting problem.

Riley could have explained himself to a journalist. Los Angeles isn’t exactly hurting for media outlets, and he could have spoken with any number of writers who cover OU sports. Instead, Riley went to a forum where he couldn’t be challenged to offer his own glossy version of events.

If Riley is expecting gratitude for what he accomplished at OU, he got plenty of it when he was with the team. But if he’s already edgy enough about recruiting that he thought this was a good idea, it seems ominous that he chose to manage the optics around the situation rather than figuring out if he has a problem to fix.

Either way, this is all getting old.