USC coach Lincoln Riley talks spring ball, first 100 days, eagerness of team, and more
USC begins its first of 15 spring practices on Tuesday. After roughly 100 days on the job, new head coach Lincoln Riley will get to take to the field with his staff and start molding this Trojans squad. It’ll be a process, but Riley sounds optimistic at the outset.
He joined Trojans Live with Jordan Moore and Keely Eure Monday night to discuss the vision he has for the program, the work so far, the work still to be done, and more. The following includes most everything Riley said, with a few questions skipped over for brevity. You can view the full interview here.
On how his first 100 days have been:
LR: “It’s been a blast. It really has. It’s been fun getting to know everybody and getting settled into Southern California. The people both involved with the university and outside the university have been so great to us and our staff and all the new people that have come in. That part has been tremendous.
“Building the program, the roster, the facilities, when you come in in the position we did, you really try to pull back the layers on every part of this program and try to figure out what’s going on and happening at an elite level, and those that are let’s keep building, and those that aren’t we’ve got to get them to an elite level quickly. It’s been a lot to do, but it’s been a lot of fun. Honestly. It really has. The buy-in from the administration, the players, the staff has been so good and I think we’ve made a lot of progress in such a short amount of time.”
On what he’s learned about the team so far:
LR: “We’re very eager. We’re still learning what it takes to win and what that looks like. That was a big reason why as we put together the staff we got some of the top guys, some elite coaches and people that are very elite in their lines of work. The one thing we wanted, well, really two things: we wanted people who were dying to be at USC and we wanted people who have won, people that experienced it, people that know what it looks like so that when we try to transfer this over to our players and our team and we build this, we’re doing it with a lot of people who know what that’s like. We’re not having to teach the staff what it feels like to be a part of a championship program, it’s all of us pouring that into our players.
“And our players are eager. We’ve got a cool combination of players that have been here that are excited to see this become what it can and should be again, and then some new players that certainly wanted to be a part of that change and wanted to be part of this university and football program. It’s a very eager group that I think will improve quickly.”
On gameplan for spring:
LR: “It’s about this team reaching its potential. For us right now, we cannot waste a day. Every single practice is important. Every single walkthrough. Everything that you do when you’re a champion matters. Our guys are learning that. With only having 15 opportunities to get on the field with them before summer hits, we can’t waste one (practice).
“Whether it’s scheme, whether it’s effort, whether it’s physicality, whatever it is, it’s all gotta improve, it’s all gotta take steps.”
On signs from the coaching staff:
LR: “The guys, I think, have really come together quickly. I’ve been impressed with just kind of the synergy already. As you’re sitting back and trying to build the best staff that you can, that’s something that you try to predict as much as you can but I don’t know that you ever know what’s going to happen until you put people in a meeting room together and in different situations together.
“We kept the main things the main things, and when you get people who, one, want to be at a place and, two, know what winning looks like, you’re going to have a lot of very similar characteristics and people that are after the same thing. I believe that’s what we have on our staff.”
On Caleb Williams’ fit with the offense:
LR: “We thought he would just make sense in this situation. I don’t think there was any doubt. We felt like the combination of him and Miller Moss would give us a great start there in the quarterback room and we’ve been really impressed with how those guys have handled things up to this point. Caleb obviously has some experience within our system, our terminology, our way of doing things, our way of coaching the position and that certainly helps. And he has some good playing experience.
“Again, though, at the end of the day, whether it’s a staff member or Caleb or Shane Lee or any of these guys, they still had to fit the criteria. At the end of the day, Caleb really wanted to be at USC and this is where he’s at. Certainly glad he’s here with us and certainly think he’ll be a big part of this team going forward.”
On whether they feel they hit all the spots they needed to in the transfer portal prior to spring ball or if they’ll continue to evaluate the roster:
LR: “Oh we’ll definitely evaluate. There’s no question about it, there will continue to be a lot of movement. The way we’re positioned right now, we will take a large number of transfers after spring. That’s just kind of where our roster’s at. We’ve got a lot of flexibility at this point. And I think we’ve got a product, as evident by the quality of some of the guys that came in here this first cycle, we’ve got a place that a lot of people are excited about playing football and going to school at.
“I love the roster we’ve built so far and excited about the flexibility that we have after spring.”
On whether they evaluate tape of the returning guys or hold off to see in-person and form their own evaluations:
LR: “We got to see a lot of these guys in-person when we first got here the week before the Cal game, and so that was very helpful. We studied a little bit but… those are different times, different circumstances, different conditions, so we didn’t put a whole lot of stock into it. We haven’t sat there and poured through a bunch of last year’s USC film.
“We tried to get an idea of what we had, but, for everybody in the program, it hasn’t been, ‘Well it was done like this before and we’re doing it like this now.’ It’s not that attitude. It’s whatever (was) done before—good, bad, in between—doesn’t matter anymore, it’s about this day forward, and we want every player in this program to feel the same way.”
On being worried about team chemistry:
LR: “I definitely wouldn’t say worry, but I think we’d be foolish to not identify that’s one of the challenges for us right now. I’ve told the team this and they’ve heard me say it multiple times: this is gonna be, in a lot of ways, maybe the most unique roster in the history of USC football when you think about how it’ll all come together by the time we kick off in September. Our ability to galvanize together as a staff, as a program, in the locker room will be a huge factor in ultimately what this team can accomplish.”
On what makes Alex Grinch a good complement as the defensive coordinator:
LR: “We’ve worked really well together the last three years. I think we complement each other in a lot of ways. He does an outstanding job not just with the scheme of our guys and coaching our safeties but also I think just the mentality of our group. I think we’re very much aligned in our beliefs in building a program, our beliefs in continuing to improve and take next steps.
“I think also you get some of the added experience of (the fact) we’ve done this together at a different place and not to sit there and pretend we were perfect. There are things that we’ve learned that now, I think, starting over here we’ve been able to implement that I think are battle-tested and time-tested. I don’t feel like we’re reaching for things or grasping for things that we haven’t done or experienced or been through together.”
On how he gauges success:
LR: “I think within the walls the way our players work, the way they respond to different challenges we put in front of them, how accountable they are. You’ll know. And when that comes, then the results that everybody wants will follow pretty quickly behind that.
“Yeah it’s great to have some success early and we certainly intend to, but championship teams become championship teams because they do things a different way. They do things at an elite level and then they do everything at that level because they realize everything is important. When you do that, you give yourself the best opportunities for success.
“Within the walls, as we see more and more of that, we’ll know that we’re headed in the right direction.”
On what he’d tell fans about the team:
LR: “I think (fans) will enjoy the eagerness about this team. They will. I haven’t been on the field with them for an initial practice yet so I don’t want to anoint too much, but it’s been exciting to see how hungry these guys are. They don’t understand it all yet, but their intent is there and their want-to (is there) and the things we’re putting in front of them, you can see they really are actively making a conscious effort to do those things. If we can keep that up about us—that humility and that hunger to improve and become the best we can—then we’ll start taking the steps we need to.”