Contrived, pretentious and hardly real, Lincoln Riley tries telling us his story again
Having little new to say, the outgoing Sooner coach felt it important he say something
So there’s this thing called The Players’ Tribune, an online publication in which athletes, coaches and, for all I know, executives, too, tell their story, without the traditional media go between.
I’m sure there’s been some terrific stories from some great athletes, perhaps a few not ghost-written, nor penned by an agent, an author set up by an agent or some PR flack.
Lincoln Riley’s, however, published Wednesday under the headline “Sometimes Life Throws You a Curveball,” in which he sought to explain more clearly his departure from Oklahoma and arrival at Southern Cal, is not one of them.
Reading it, you can so easily imagine some unnamed writer reading it to back to Riley and, upon reading each thought he’s portrayed to have had, some he may well have had and some he may well have not, then asking Riley, “That sound good?” and Riley saying, “Yeah, yeah, real good, thanks.”
There may be a few passages grounded in Riley’s actual feelings, yet still they don’t sound like actual feelings; more like Riley’s idea of what his feelings ought to sound like.
The story begins with paragraph’s beginning “I remember” or “I’ll never forget” and this one’s high on the list:
“I’ll never forget the words Mike Stoops said to me after we won our first conference championship together in 2015 by blowing out Oklahoma State on the road. I’ll keep it private. It was simple and humble. But as a guy coming from East Carolina, just trying to do my part, it made me feel like I really belonged at this legendary program.”
He’ll never forget them but he can’t tell us what they are, even though they were “simple and humble,” and not laced with profanities, which would be the typical reason to withhold behind the scenes quotes from the old Sooner defensive coordinator?
What it sounds like is he wanted to say something nice about Stoops, given the fact he dismissed him following a 48-45 loss inside the Cotton Bowl on Oct. 6, 2018.
It’s just so contrived.
Here’s another fun one:
“I remember the 2017 senior day, witnessing the end of the Baker Mayfield era and the beginning of the Kyler Murray chapter in Oklahoma’s football history.”
Yet, as Jason Kersey, who covered Riley and OU for The Athletic, reminded us on Twitter Wednesday, that was hardly his tune at the time and after. Instead, Riley entered spring camp, prior to the 2018 season, swearing he had a quarterback competition at hand.
“Kyler is not the quarterback yet,” he said on July 16, 2018. “There is good competition going on.”
Interesting, too, if we’re to take Riley at his word now, not only did he originally seek to squash Austin Kendall’s immediate eligibility upon his transfer to West Virginia, he also put him through a sham of a quarterback competition one year prior.
Yet another strange one, a case of Riley sounding completely contrived even while dropping an accidental truth:
“I could never forget trailing Baylor 28-3 in Waco in 2019 without our best player, yet rallying to win 34-31 in the greatest comeback in the history of OU football.”
One, the idea that Riley carries that game with him BECAUSE it was the biggest comeback in Sooner history is just dumb. He carries it with him because Jalen Hurts was beyond terrible for a half that day, so terrible the fact OU still won remains a miracle.
That truth that slipped was the reference to “our best player,” because CeeDee Lamb was missing that day, but the eventual Heisman runner-up wasn’t.
Still, it’s so weird to refer to Lamb as OU’s best player without referring to Lamb by name at all. What’s that about?
Is Riley capable of saying what he means?
“And I remember a resilient comeback to win one of the most thrilling Red River games in history in 2021.”
“A resilient comeback.”
If that’s the way it plays in his head, if that’s the big takeaway — resiliency — from one of the craziest games in Sooner history, he’s the only one.
Everybody else in Sooner Nation and beyond remembers it as the day Spencer Rattler quit being OU’s quarterback and the day Caleb Williams became the Sooner quarterback, fantastically saving the game and the season. Yet, somehow, Riley has forgotten the particulars despite that very same Caleb Williams now being his quarterback at USC.
It’s just so tiring.
Here’s a rich passage:
“Honestly, I always figured I would end my coaching career at OU. But when my agent called me to pass along interest from USC, I was immediately intrigued by the possibilities. 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.”
At the time, Riley wanted us to believe it all happened that fast. Now he wants us to believe not only did it happen that fast, until it happened that fast, he thought he’d be in Norman forever.
Given the chance to put it all into his own words, he tells an even bigger whopper than the one he told at the time.
It’s like the Los Angeles Times never reported USC had been in talks with Riley’s representation all season long.
Funny then, that after Riley OK’d or decided, Yeah, let’s go with it all happening the first 12 or so hours after Oklahoma State’s 37-33 Bedlam victory — right after which, that very night, he said, “I am not going to be the next head coach at LSU” — he came with this:
“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.”
Yet, given that chance, in a 1,500-plus word soliloquy in The Players Tribune, he offered the very same impossible story with the very same impossible timeline, after giving us a bunch of memories he claims to treasure despite characterizing many of them in ways too impossible to believe.
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There was this, too:
“I’m very thankful for the opportunity at USC and for all of the people who made it happen. My family and I couldn’t be happier to be in Southern California as we begin this new chapter in our lives. It honestly feels like a dream to wake up in paradise every single day.”
If you can afford it, Los Angeles is amazing. The weather’s great, you’ve got the ocean right there and the mountains right there, too, and everywhere you go is full of all kinds of history.
He could have just said that.
But folks might not have liked it.
He saved this for the end:
“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.”
That’s fine, too.
But you know what it isn’t?
It isn’t much.
It’s not deep. It’s not thoughtful.
It’s a bright red bow on a Hollywood story Riley wishes were true.
Most of us thought he was a great coach. Maybe the shine’s off now and yet the number of Sooner fans who’ll be surprised to see him resuscitate the Trojans will be zero.
Through it all, what we’ve learned about Riley is something different. But for being a football coach, there’s not a whole lot there.
There’s just not a whole lot there.