Lincoln Riley Named USC Head Coach After 5 Seasons as Oklahoma HC

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured Columnist IVNovember 28, 2021

Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley watches his team play against Iowa State during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021, in Norman, Okla. (AP Photo/Alonzo Adams)
AP Photo/Alonzo Adams

USC has found its next head coach as it looks to reestablish itself among college football's elite programs.

The Trojans announced the hiring of Lincoln Riley, who was the head coach of the Oklahoma Sooners since the start of the 2017 campaign:

USC Football @USC_FB

We got our guy.<br><br>Join us in welcoming <a href="https://twitter.com/LincolnRiley?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@LincolnRiley</a> and his family to Los Angeles!<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/FightOn?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#FightOn</a>โœŒ๏ธ <a href="https://t.co/CHnhzHRFT6">pic.twitter.com/CHnhzHRFT6</a>

Pete Thamel of Yahoo Sports reported the news prior to the announcement.

Riley discussed the move and his appreciation for his time at Oklahoma:

Bryan Fischer @BryanDFischer

Lincoln Riley on USC/leaving Oklahoma: <a href="https://t.co/e0pop8DvWW">pic.twitter.com/e0pop8DvWW</a>

The position became open after athletic director Mike Bohn announced USC fired Clay Helton on Sept. 13. His departure came after the Trojans lost 42-28 in their Pac-12 opener to Stanford and didn't look like the conference championship contenders fans were hoping to see in 2021.

Helton released a statement saying he was "forever indebted" to the players he led during his tenure:

Clay Helton @USCCoachHelton

Thank you Trojan Family. Fight On! <a href="https://t.co/ejZe6Pr5rV">pic.twitter.com/ejZe6Pr5rV</a>

USC made Helton the interim head coach in 2015 following the firing of Steve Sarkisian, and he led the team to a 5-4 record that first season. The Trojans made him the full-time head coach during that time, and it appeared to be the correct move when they finished the 2016 campaign with nine straight wins.

Victories over Notre Dame, Oregon, Washington and UCLA were included in that stretch, as was a Rose Bowl win over Penn State.

However, that was the program's last bowl win. It went 5-7 in 2018, 8-5 in 2019 and lost to Oregon in the Pac-12 title game during the shortened 2020 campaign. Helton went 45-24 since 2015 and was unable to return USC to the consistent excellence it once enjoyed.

Reports of potential candidates immediately started to come out.

Thamel reported James Franklin, Bob Stoops, Chris Petersen, Matt Campbell, Bill O'Brien, Luke Fickell, P.J. Fleck, Mario Cristobal, Greg Schiano and Tony Elliott were potential hires, while ESPN's Adam Schefter reported some NFL sources saw Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy as a candidate for the position.

There is always going to be pressure at USC as it attempts to rediscover the glory days of the Pete Carroll era. The Trojans were annual national title contenders under his watch and won double-digit games seven years in a row from 2002 through 2008. 

However, they have struggled to compete with the likes of Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson and other national powerhouses since.

It is up to Riley to change that, and he found plenty of success with the Sooners.

Oklahoma went 55-10 during his tenure and reached double-digit wins in every season except for the shortened 2020 campaign. The Big 12 powerhouse went to the College Football Playoff in three of the previous four years and was in position to perhaps battle for a spot this year until Saturday's loss to Oklahoma State.

While there was some speculation Riley could go to LSU until he shut that down Saturday, this is still something of a surprise.

Oklahoma has been one of the best programs in the entire country of late and is primed to join the SEC in the near future. USC, by contrast, has struggled to rediscover its glory days while competing in a Pac-12 conference that does not get the same level of attention or playoff spots as the SEC. The school dropped to 4-7 after a 35-31 loss to No. 12 BYU on Saturday.

Still, Riley will look to bring the Trojans back to the top of college football and perhaps do something he was unable to do with the Soonersโ€”win a national title.