Packers Head Coach Candidate: Lincoln Riley
One of the hottest names in the collegiate or professional ranks, Lincoln Riley is in the midst of finishing up his second year as the head coach of the Oklahoma Sooners.
Long-time Oklahoma head coach turned over the keys to Riley in 2017. Then just 33, getting the top job in Norman represented the culmination of a rapid rise through the college ranks for the former backup quarterback. He now finds himself at the precipice of another shot at a national title—or a jump to the NFL.
The details on Lincoln Riley
Most recent job: Head Coach for the University of Oklahoma (2017-present)
Team W/L in current job: 24-3
First job: Student Assistant to Mike Leach at Texas Tech (2003)
Packers connection: Overlapped with former Packers quarterback Graham Harrell during Harrell’s tenure as the starting quarterback for Texas Tech
The background on Lincoln Riley
Like Kliff Kingsbury, Lincoln Riley’s football journey includes a stop at Texas Tech, where he backed up Kingsbury under head coach Mike Leach. After a single season on the roster as a player, Riley moved into coaching, securing his first gig as a student assistant on Leach’s staff. Over the next few years, Riley climbed the ranks student assistant to graduate assistant to finally fully joining the staff as a wide receivers coach.
In 2010, Riley earned his first major assignment with an invite to serve as the offensive coordinator under Ruffin McNeill at small-school talent hotbed East Carolina. During his tenure there, East Carolina posted gaudy passing statistics, finishing in the top 10 nationally in passing yards and in scoring two times during his stay.
In 2015, Bob Stoops hired Riley as his offensive coordinator. When Stoops retired after the 2016 season, Riley stepped into the top job and picked up right where his predecessor left off. Oklahoma is 24-3 since Riley became its head coach and has won the Big 12 twice, including a spectacular 2017 campaign that earned quarterback Baker Mayfield the Heisman Trophy.
Biggest moment: Riley the giant killer
In addition to Riley’s role in Mayfield’s Heisman Trophy win, he’s also helped the Sooners to several high profile victories.
In 2017, Riley and the Sooners pummeled then-#2 ranked Ohio State at Ohio Stadium, posting a 31-16 win over more than 109,000 Buckeyes fans. Mayfield provided an exclamation mark to the upset win when he planted an Oklahoma flag at midfield.
It was the first of three wins for Oklahoma over top 10 ranked opponents that season, though they’d ultimately lose to #3 Georgia in the College Football Playoff.
Riley’s biggest moment may be yet to come, though. He and his Sooners have an opportunity to play spoiler in Alabama’s campaign to become one of the greatest football teams of all-time, squaring off with the Crimson Tide in the first round of this year’s College Football Playoff.
In his own words: NFL teams can’t be afraid to adapt
Asked about the increasing prevalence of college offensive concepts in the NFL, Riley told Sports Illustrated he’s not surprised. In fact, he applauded the Patriots and Eagles specifically for their willingness to try new things.
“The two teams in the NFL that look the most like us, or several other college teams, were the two teams playing in the Super Bowl, so when people are having success with it, that’s not going to slow down.
“It says a lot—it shows they’re willing to do whatever it takes. It shows they’re willing to adapt to their players, adapt to schemes they’re seeing defensively, adapt to new hour rules. I know it’s not a new rule, but that has made a big difference in the NFL—you can ask anyone. I think it just shows that they’re ahead of curve, and that’s why they’re best in the business.”
What are the chances Lincoln Riley is the next Packers head coach?
Gary’s Rating: 0/5
In college football, head coach hirings are often seen as immediate successes or failures based on the incoming coach’s name recognition among fans. In some ways, Lincoln Riley is connected to the Packers head coaching position because he’s the trendiest offensive head coach that draws similarities to Rams head coach Sean McVay.
The NFL at this point in Riley’s career feels like too great a risk. If Riley takes a head coaching job in the pros and fails, would a top tier program like Oklahoma welcome him back? After offensive wizard Chip Kelly left Philadelphia and eventually re-entered the college coaching ranks with UCLA six years after leaving Oregon, his salary was $200,000 lower.
Riley’s arrow is pointing up as a coach, and he should continue to stay at Oklahoma and build on the stable, consistent success the program has had for two decades. Green Bay doesn’t feel like the right fit for the young coach.
Jon’s Rating: 0/5
Riley hasn’t even completed his second season at Oklahoma yet, and given the job security that winning can bring in a college program, it seems unlikely that he’d be ready to jump ship yet. This seems a couple years too soon for Riley.
But say he did make the jump. If he played true to form, the Packers would quickly have one of the most progressive offenses in the NFL, one that relies on a variety of personnel groupings and concepts to put players in a position to succeed.
Riley could be a good archetype for the Packers to follow, even if he doesn’t ultimately end up in Green Bay. He’s had offensive success everywhere he’s gone, and he’s succeeded by adapting his scheme to what his players do best. Mike McCarthy was many things, but quick to adapt was not one of them. Even if it’s not Riley, the Packers would do well to pursue someone who has a similar pedigree.