Lincoln Riley: Oklahoma Moving to SEC Had 'Nothing to Do' with Me Taking USC Job

Rob Goldberg@@TheRobGoldbergFeatured Columnist IVJune 7, 2022

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 23: USC Trojans head coach Lincoln Riley looks on during USC Trojans Spring Game on April 23, 2022, at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

USC head coach Lincoln Riley denied the speculation that he left Oklahoma because he was scared of the move to the SEC.

"I heard the whole SEC narrative," Riley told Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports. "To me, the SEC has nothing to do with it. It's all about the program that you're at and the position you think you can get to."

Oklahoma and Texas announced ahead of the 2021 season that they would leave for the SEC starting in 2025. In February, Riley stunned the college football world by leaving Oklahoma—where he won four Big 12 titles in five years—for USC and the Pac-12.

It represents an easier path during the conference season, but Riley simply saw the chance at a fresh start.

"I'm 38. I want to experience different things," Riley said. "I want to win. This opportunity is so good, how can you not do it?"

A reported 10-year, $110 million contract likely helped make the decision, but Riley also said he enjoyed watching USC games when he was younger.

"It felt different when you watched it," the coach said. "The energy behind it was different."

Perhaps most importantly, Riley seemed to indicate that he couldn't win a championship with Oklahoma.

The Sooners have reached the College Football Playoffs four times—three with Riley as head coach and once when he was an offensive coordinator under Bob Stoops—and they lost in the semifinals each time. Only once was the final margin within single digits.

"I've walked into four playoffs, and I've never had better than maybe the third-best roster [of the four teams]," Riley said. "Every other year, we were four of four. We had really good rosters, but they weren't the same. … I can't imagine that there could be a setting that we could build a better roster than we can here."

USC is coming off a 4-8 season under Clay Helton and interim coach Donte Williams, but Riley has rebuilt the roster using the transfer portal and could turn the team into a contender in 2022.