Lincoln Riley on USC transfers: 'We didn't take players from Oklahoma, we took players from the transfer portal'
Depending on how you use it, the transfer portal can be a walk through an ethical minefield.
If you’re a coach that leaves for another program, how do you go about recruiting players to your new team? Are your old guys with whom you’ve built a bond and invested time in coaching and developing off-limits?
“The rules are the rules,” said new USC head coach Lincoln Riley Tuesday during an appearance on The Herd with Colin Cowherd.
Riley directed the No. 1 transfer class in the country this past recruiting cycle, punctuated with the signing of former Oklahoma quarterback Caleb Williams. Williams entered the portal about a month after Riley left Oklahoma for USC. He was rated as the No. 1 available player by 247Sports, and he was one of three Sooners to transfer to Southern Cal.
“I think there’s kind of two parts of you—there’s the purist, there’s the person that obviously loves football,” Riley continued. “In some ways, maybe the fan of the game in you has an idea of the way you’d like to see it go. But, then also there’s the person that’s here to do a job and there’s a person that has a set of rules or parameters to work with and you’re going to do everything you can within those rules to help build your program and put it to an advantage. That’s what we’ve tried to do.”
Riley has spoken on both sides of the issue since National Signing Day. During an appearance on ESPN, he said he’d like to see some guardrails put in place to provide some more structure to portal procedure. He echoed that sentiment during his signing day press conference with local reporters.
But in the meantime, Riley hasn’t hesitated to take advantage of a portal environment without those guardrails, ruffling plenty of feathers along the way.
They could, and obviously did, but should USC have gone after Williams? That’s a question that could ignite a wave of change with the transfer portal. Some pundits have floated rule tweaks that would require players transferring schools to follow head coaches to still need to sit out a year regardless of the one-time transfer exception.
Whether true or not, a coach leaving for another program then recruiting portaled players from his old program leads to rampant speculation about when the conversations first started. Riley defended himself and his staff.
“We didn’t take players from Oklahoma,” Riley told Cowherd, acknowledging the whole thing can be a bit sensitive. “We took players from the transfer portal.
“Those players and their families had to make a decision to either stay at that university … or to enter the portal where then they can be recruited by anybody in the country. That’s up to those players and their families and we have nothing to do with that. But once a player gets into the portal where they are open to any school in the country, we would be crazy not to take a look at (them) and try to help our football team.
“Maybe the more emotional tie for me is these are guys that we recruited. We got to know their families. We were part of the entire process. And all of a sudden they were good enough for us to take at Oklahoma but now we wouldn’t give them a chance just because we’re in a new spot? That part never really made sense to me. We are certainly excited to get those guys here, along with all the other players. It’s literally players in a portal. These are guys that we feel like can come into USC and help us get this program to where it needs to be.”
And because of the additions made, many are talking about USC as a potential player at the top of college football’s ecosystem next season. FOX’s Joel Klatt tweeted out that the addition of Williams made USC a dark horse threat to make the College Football Playoff in 2022. Williams has the third-best Heisman odds of any player in the country right now.
“I’d say this: the good part about being in my position is we honestly don’t spend much time thinking about how long we think it’s going to take,” Riley told Cowherd when asked if they can contend for a national title in the near future. “You have a vision in your head of, ‘Alright, here’s what we need to get to. Here are the steps we need to take now. … Let’s use the portal, let’s use high school recruiting, let’s develop, let’s build up facilities, let’s build up the culture and atmosphere around the program.’ I think you just do that as fast as you can. And obviously, the faster you could do it, the more it takes hold, and the (better) chance you have to start stacking great years on top of great years.
“I don’t want to limit it by saying well, it can’t happen until you’re three or four (years in). I don’t know that I necessarily believe that.”
Riley said on signing day the expectations don’t change because of a few high-profile signings. He said then that the bar should never be low at USC, and their expectations were high well before they added anyone from the portal.
“We would not have left what we left unless we felt like this could be something very, very elite,” Riley told Cowherd. “And I think every person that we brought in—every staff member, every player—feels that right now.”
You can watch the full interview below: