Lincoln Riley Says Leaving Oklahoma For USC Was 'Most Difficult Decision of My Life'

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured Columnist IVNovember 29, 2021

LAWRENCE, KS - OCTOBER 23: Head coach Lincoln Riley of the Oklahoma Sooners talks to players during warmups before taking on the Kansas Jayhawks at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium on October 23, 2021 in Lawrence, Kansas. (Photo by Kyle Rivas/Getty Images)
Kyle Rivas/Getty Images

Lincoln Riley addressed his decision to leave Oklahoma and become the head coach at USC, calling it "probably the most difficult decision of my life."

Riley added that he accepted the Trojans' offer "based on my willingness to go take on a new challenge, and I felt like it was the right opportunity for me and my family to do that."

Oklahoma Football @OU_Football

Statements from President Harroz, Joe Castiglione, Lincoln Riley and Bob Stoops.<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/BoomerSooner?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#BoomerSooner</a> <a href="https://t.co/g1zazNgE76">pic.twitter.com/g1zazNgE76</a>

USC also shared a statement from Riley:

USC Football @USC_FB

Future is 𝗯𝗿𝗶𝗴𝗵𝘁.<br><br>🗣 <a href="https://twitter.com/LincolnRiley?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@LincolnRiley</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/FightOn?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#FightOn</a>✌️ <a href="https://t.co/8HhJfAJP8e">pic.twitter.com/8HhJfAJP8e</a>

USC is planning to hold a press conference Monday at 6 p.m. ET, which will potentially see Riley face pointed questions asking for more insight into his thinking.

This move isn't necessarily unparalleled, but rarely does a head coach leave what Riley had in Norman, Oklahoma, for any other position at the college level.

The Sooners have been one of the most consistently successful programs in the country. 

They won 12 games in each of Riley's first three seasons and qualified for the College Football Playoff in 2018 and 2019. Before the 38-year-old arrived, Oklahoma failed to reach 10 wins just four times in Bob Stoops' 18 years at the sideline.

While Norman isn't the biggest draw in terms of recruiting, Riley basically had everything a coach could ask for. When he said he was "not going to be the next head coach at LSU" after OU's loss to Oklahoma State on Saturday, that seemed to be the final word on the matter.

Instead, the Texas native is leaving Oklahoma behind for what is effectively a rebuilding job at USC. The Trojans stagnated under Clay Helton, and they're likely at least two years away from being a serious national power again.

The one question on everybody's mind—and surely something he will be asked about on Monday—is how much the Sooners' eventual move to SEC motivated his decision.

Perhaps Oklahoma will continue to be a perennial playoff contender when it begins playing an SEC schedule, but the road to CFP will undoubtedly be more difficult. USC provides Riley with a more clear path if he can succeed where Helton failed in terms of bringing the best in-state talent to Los Angeles.

Robert Griffin III @RGIII

Lincoln Riley is a genius. Don’t go to the SEC and be little brother to Alabama and Georgia. Go to the PAC 12, revive the USC Juggernaut and further cement your coaching legacy.

The Trojans might also provide more job security given how quickly things unraveled for Ed Orgeron and Dan Mullen at LSU and Florida, respectively.

Chris Vannini @ChrisVannini

That’s not even to say Riley specifically doesn’t want the SEC. I don’t know. <br><br>But the manic culture of the SEC churning through so many coaches isn't tenable long-term. Now you see coaches passing on LSU, despite it being a clear national title job. <br><br>The sport sorts itself out

Oklahoma is in a far better overall position, but it only needs to look to Nebraska to see how aligning with a more competitive conference and abandoning geographic rivalries can backfire in a big way.