NORMAN — Lincoln Riley was introduced four days ago as Oklahoma’s new offensive coordinator. However, Bedlam basketball conspired to keep some very cogent points about his appointment and introduction out of the paper until today.
That will be remedied forthwith.
Though Riley could always fall on his face, just as anybody can or might, you have to love just about everything he had to say Saturday at his introductory press conference, and you had to love it because you also had to like everything his words seemed to be saying about the coach and man behind them, even as he wasn’t so much talking about himself as he was about his new place on the Sooner football landscape.
Ready to do a little reading between the lines?
• “I think that’s one of the beautiful things about this offense, that it can become whatever we need it to become. We’ll go recruit certain players for certain positions, certainly and we will look at different skill sets, but at the same time I don't think we need a lot of specific things to make it work.”
Can you imagine Josh Heupel saying that, or even Bob Stoops, who was sitting right next to Riley as he said it? Heupel, doubtfully, could say it and mean it, such a prisoner of things having to be a certain way and seemingly so left-brained to the core, because system means structure and structure means not deviating. Meanwhile, Stoops couldn't have said it out of fear of being seen as talking out of both sides of his mouth, like the guy trying to have it both ways. But here’s Riley saying, yeah, we can mold this thing to accentuate and emphasize whatever we need it to accentuate and emphasize, like an alchemist working within a structure. Or, mostly, like a guy who really knows what he’s doing, which is more than you can say about the Sooner offense, maybe going on five years now.
• “We’re going to take a lot of pride in doing what our guys do well and making sure that our best players touch the ball and that we put our guys in position to make as many plays as they can.”
Remember how tortured the Sooner offense seemed to be when it came to getting the ball to Trey Millard just about every season he was around and even Blake Bell this season and other tight ends past seasons? Remember how little use was made of Roy Finch? Even a position change couldn’t put the ball in that guy's hands.
It takes seeing the wide angle and to believe seeing the forest from the trees to be a strength of Heupel or Stoops is to believe facts that are not in evidence. But Riley well might. The way he talks, he wants a pallet of options and a buffet line of weapons. He speaks like a man with a penchant for creativity. When was the last time we saw that in the Sooner offense?
• “I called the game after Mike (Leach) got fired (at Texas Tech) and I thought, well, I can call a football game, I’m ready to be an offensive coordinator now. (However) calling a game is certainly a big part of it, but it’s not all of it. The organization, the preparation and choosing which ideas you’re going to use and which ideas you’re not. There is so much more that goes into it. I was able to learn on the fly. I was very lucky. I was able to learn with (East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeill), who gave me a lot of rope. When I made mistakes, he didn’t hold me back.”
Stop the presses, but Saturday we heard humility, real humility, from a Sooner coach, and not the “they out-coached us, out-played us, out-executed us” coachspeak humility we’re used to. How refreshing is it to hear a coach say he’s made mistakes. Later, as part of the same answer, Riley even said, “I still have some growing up to do. I certainly don’t have it all figured out,” which is something like gold out of a coach’s mouth. Further, the meat of his answer tells us that he understands it begins in the coaches’ room, with agreement on direction, “the organization” and everybody being on the same page. That clearly hasn’t been the case lately with the Sooner offense, a unit so painfully at odds with itself for so much of too many recent seasons.
• "You can go down the line and look at all of the different places that have used versions of this offense. We have had tall, short, fast, we’ve had slow. We have to have a guy that can make decisions. We have got to have a guy that is very accurate with the football. We want a winner.”
That was Riley talking about the quarterback position. Don’t you love clarity? The quarterback doesn’t have to be any particular “type” but he has to have the courage to make decisions — good ones, presumably — and he must be accurate. You have to like a coach who knows what’s negotiable and what isn’t.
• It’s pretty fun walking into these high schools with those two letters on your chest and knowing that you have a chance with any player, anywhere, any time.”
He had to be having fun some of the time, but Heupel never looked like he was having any fun at all and, given his difficult people skills, you have to believe he preferred a meeting room with the video rolling — just as he did before ever enrolling at OU, on his famous recruiting visit, alongside Mike Leach, when he was thinking about coming to Norman from Utah’s Snow Junior College — than chatting up prospective Sooners hundreds and sometimes thousands of miles away from the comfortable confines of the Switzer Center.
Finally, to listen to Riley was to listen to somebody thoughtfully explaining himself, thinking on his feet and offering his answers, confidently enough to be unconcerned by how they might play in the paper or over the air.
For years, OU’s head coach and offensive coordinator have been playing defense when talking about the offense.
It was so time for a change. This looks like a good one.