Lincoln Riley pens letter in The Players’ Tribune addressing his departure from Oklahoma
On Wednesday, The Players’ Tribune published a letter penned by USC head coach Lincoln Riley. In his own words, Riley addressed his decision to leave Oklahoma last winter and accept the head coaching job at USC.
In Norman, Oklahoma, Riley wrote, he thought he was at a job he would have until he retired. He said the Sooner job was not “a coaching stop,” but “a home.” He mentioned that his second daughter was born in Norman, that his family invested into the community, and he experienced some of the best moments of his coaching career.
But after the Sooners lost to Oklahoma State on Nov. 27, knocking the team out of contention for a spot in the Big 12 title game, USC was waiting.
Here’s Riley on the timing:
“When my agent called me to pass along interest from USC, I was immediately intrigued by the possibilities,” he wrote.
“Everything that happened next was a blur: I jumped on a Zoom with USC officials, I informed our athletic director, Joe Castiglione, of my decision and then, in one of the most difficult moments of my life and career, I stood in front of our Oklahoma team to let them know that I was leaving. I saw the immediate consequences of my decision on the faces of our players. I really hated the timing, because our team was coming off a gut-wrenching loss, but with the recent rule changes in college football impacting the recruiting cycle, it certainly affected the timeline and made a difficult transition even tougher. Shortly after that meeting, USC announced the news, and my family and I were on our way to Los Angeles.
“On the plane ride to Los Angeles, so many emotions were flowing through my mind. I was so excited about USC and its potential, but I was also filled with some guilt and sadness realizing that Norman was no longer home. There are aspects of my departure and transition that I would certainly do differently if I could do it again, and I acknowledge that I could have handled some parts of the situation better. I absolutely own that. While I was able to talk with several players after the team meeting, I wish I would have had the time to sit down with each individual player and staff member to explain my decision.”
Riley expressed appreciation toward USC for the opportunity he has now and conveyed hope in the team he’s building.
“Since my move, many have asked me why I would leave Oklahoma, and the best—and most honest—answer is that the opportunity at USC was simply the right job at the right time for me and for my family,” he wrote. “We all have moments in life where we are faced with difficult choices, and this was the path my family and I chose. I don’t expect everyone to understand; in my line of work, that’s not possible.”
The letter from Riley comes just days before both his new USC team and his old Oklahoma team will take their respective fields for the first time under near coaches at annual spring games. USC and Oklahoma will both hold their spring games on Saturday, April 23.
At Oklahoma, Riley’s first quarterback as head coach, Baker Mayfield, will have a statue unveiled this weekend in the program’s ‘Heisman Park.’ Riley, obviously, won’t be in attendance for that ceremony. His relationship with Mayfield has been well-documented.
A picture of the two of them was in Riley’s piece in The Players’ Tribune. In 2017, when Mayfield was benched to start a game as punishment for a crude gesture directed at Kansas fans the week prior, Riley got choked up talking about his quarterback, saying, “No matter how long I go coaching, whatever the rest of my career ends up being like, I don’t know that I’ll ever have a player as special to me as he is.”
Perhaps, as Mayfield’s ceremony draws near, Riley has been reflecting a little more on his OU tenure and felt the need to offer an olive branch. Or maybe this is his way of officially closing the book on one chapter and moving to the next.
“So I want to say THANK YOU to everyone who was a part of our journey in Norman: every player, every staff member and every fan,” he wrote. “I am eternally grateful for each one of you.
”… For my family and I, nothing can ever take away from our appreciation for OU and the overwhelming number of positive things that we experienced there. And now, as we start this new chapter, nothing can temper our excitement to chase championships at USC.”