OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. – An hour north of here, last night in a side room of the Oklahoma State visiting locker room, after his team lost Bedlam 37-33, Lincoln Riley made it clear that his next destination was not in the south.
“I’m not going to be the next head coach at LSU,” he said, dismissing unsubstantiated reports linking him to the Tigers’ start.
Turns out he’s going west.
Riley will be the next head coach at USC, one of the most important coaching carousel movements in modern college football history – a coach moving from one elite Power 5 school to another. It’s a rarity in the sport, higher-profile than Jimbo Fisher’s 2017 move from Florida to Texas A&M. Or Bret Bielema’s decision to move from Wisconsin to Arkansas in 2012. Or in 2017 when Willie Taggart went to Florida State from Oregon. Or Lane Kiffin’s jump from Tennessee to USC in 2009.
The comparison may not be in the sport of soccer. In 2003, Roy Williams left a blueblood basketball, Kansas, for another, North Carolina.
But this one beats all the others. Oklahoma and USC are two programs that have won the fourth and thirteenth most games in college football history, respectively, and have combined for 34 national titles (17 each).
USC was not the only suitor either. How deep was LSU in the race? That is not clear. But another SEC blue blood program with an opening, Florida, realized what might be called the Lincoln Riley Sweepstakes. Oklahoma knew it too and had agreed to make improvements to accommodate Riley’s requests. In the end, he left Norman for Los Angeles.
The move is unprecedented in sport. And it’s changing the landscape amid a carousel cycle of coaches competing with some of the busiest in history. Already, 20 FBS schools have undergone a coaching change – three more than last season’s 17 total. Ten of them currently have job openings: Akron, Troy, Virginia Tech, Washington, Louisiana, Louisiana Tech, FIU, Duke, and the two bluebloods, Oklahoma and LSU.
The pool is starting to get shallow for hours. So who is left out for these two elite jobs? We tried.
In nine years in a basketball school, the 54-year-old Stoops has the Wildcats as a consistent winner, eclipsing the mark of eight wins in three of the past four seasons. The Cats finished 9-3 this year. It’s hard enough to win a football division or conference title in Kentucky; you can forget about a national title. So why wouldn’t Stoops give up the opportunity at such a job?
It wouldn’t be the big, swanky name LSU AD Scott Woodward is famous for landing, but he’s a solid candidate with a winning track record in a tough spot. In Oklahoma, he would follow behind his brother Bob, who conveniently serves as interim coach for the Sooners bowling game.
Kiffin’s name has been tied for weeks to the potential Miami start, but for now, the Hurricanes still employ a coach (Manny Diaz). Kiffin has the flair to excite the fan base in Baton Rouge or Norman (probably a better fit in Louisiana). But with the flare and offensive fireworks, it brings off-field concerns for some managers and has a history of job changes.
At least at the beginning of LSU’s training quest, there was a feeling around the show that the 46-year-old had no opportunity to participate. That said, weeks have passed and the candidates have been narrowed. Never say never in bullshit season.
It sure looks like the Iowa State coach is ready to make a move with Ames. His name has appeared at the top of almost every major search in this cycle. The 41-year-old man was 35 to 15 years old in Toledo and 42 to 33 years old at ISU. He lost five games this year, a season in which the Cyclones were expected to compete for the Big 12 title. That said, five bowls in a row at Ames is a solid resume. His Baton Rouge setting is questionable at best. The Ohio guy has never worked outside the Midwest.
The guy who made Temple and Baylor big winners is nearing the end of his second season with the Carolina Panthers with an NFL career record of 10-18. There are two big questions here: (1) would you go back to college and (2) would you leave in season to do so?
Rhule, 46, is held in high esteem by many college-level athletic directors and coaches, with some wondering if he would like to return. It would take a lot of money (which OU and LSU own). He makes about $ 8.5 million a year. There is the element of time. Will any of the schools wait until their season ends in January?
Fleck, 40, has a 58% winning mark in Western Michigan and Minnesota, something that is not so easy to do. This year, the Gophers finished 8–4 after defeating Wisconsin, tying them for second in the Big Ten West.
Fleck hasn’t ventured much outside of the Midwest, signing a new deal earlier this year with a massive ($ 10 million) purchase. So a team would really have to want him to pay such an exorbitant amount.
Fickell’s situation becomes more complicated because the Bearcats appear to be moving toward a CFP career, which means he will be training through December and potentially much of January. Will the teams wait? The 48-year-old is rumored to remain in school this cycle, partly because of the time element and partly because perhaps no job suits him.
Yes, he is also a kid from the Midwest, having never trained outside of Ohio. Maybe it will just wait for jobs to open in that region, say Ohio State, Notre Dame, Michigan, Penn State, etc.
The Notre Dame coach could also be leading a team to the CFP and training through December, another complication in his moving jobs. The other complication: He’s the Notre Dame coach. They pay him well and he has done quite well. He publicly denounced that he dropped out of school earlier this fall, but some in the profession feel he would move for the right opportunity.
Is that LSU or Oklahoma? Who knows.
The 51-year-old coach from Oregon has a hefty $ 9 million purchase, but he’s an attractive option. He’s set to win a third consecutive conference championship this weekend. It would seem like a good fit in a place like LSU, but so far there has been little traction on that potential marriage.
Cristóbal is from Miami, another show that would eventually have an opening this fall. Sure you have options, but will you walk away? You could have one of your best teams coming back for next season.
More college football coverage:
• Screenings for all college football games
• Lincoln Riley avoids SEC chaos and forges his own path
• Alabama’s version of The Drive keeps their playoff hopes alive
• Rivalry week sweeps open college football playoff landscape
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.