Almost midnight, Lincoln Riley on his postgame Zoom call, the Pokes having taken Bedlam 37-33, SoonerScoop’s Carey Murdock preambled his postgame question.
Riley jumped in, the actual question not yet offered.
“I am not going to be the next head coach at LSU,” he said, leaving one now to wonder many things.
Fearing the question, Riley jumped in with an answer he knew to be the truth, that he would not be home shopping in Baton Rouge. But did he say it to get through the moment or to be clever, relishing its misleadingness, reveling in his triangulation?
He had no such issues when it came to answering Murdock’s follow-up, about his ongoing relationship with his superiors, athletic director Joe Castiglione and university leadership, led by OU president Joseph Harroz.
Unless the Southern Cal job came to Riley in a dream before he woke Sunday, he flat-out lied to Murdock, other media on the call, his players, his assistant coaches and anybody else who might have watched or read one of the postgame accounts that included it.
Not even 24 hours old, the quote’s pretty breathtaking to type into the world on an early Sunday evening.
“No concerns about our administration,” Riley said. “We’ve been through a lot together. This isn’t our first rodeo together. So we always have conversations about the future and certainly with all that’s changing right now on the college landscape, all that’s getting ready to change.
“For us, at some point here, we transition into a new conference. Those are always conversations that we’re going to have, and we will be having those yearly, no matter what. All of us are trying to make this place better, make this program better, and so you don’t do that without working together and conversing with each other.
“So of course we’re gonna continue to do that. We work well together, and we’re going to keep working well together.”
It’s bound to affect recruiting harshly. Next season’s Sooner football team, whoever it’s coached by, may be as reliant on the transfer portal as first-year men’s basketball coach Porter Moser has been to put his first squad on the floor.
Like who might be the Sooner quarterback on a team that returns neither Caleb Williams nor Spencer Rattler, a reality OU’s not yet facing, yet certainly might, because why wouldn’t the nation’s most exciting returning quarterback, who’s closing in on 50,000 Twitter followers, not want to take on Los Angeles?
“I appreciate all the concerns about the situation but I am also happy for Coach Riley, mama Riley, Sloane and Stella for that huge opportunity ahead,” Williams tweeted Sunday. “That’s all I plan to say right now! #boomer.”
He didn’t even capitalize “#boomer.”
Still, the guy this whole episode speaks volumes about more than any other is Riley himself.
One, he could have told some version of the truth Saturday night, even one that left Southern Cal out of it, that still didn’t make him the latest coaching Pinocchio.
“I will not be the next head coach at LSU. Should I ever go somewhere else, I’ll be the first to let everybody know,” he might have said, pushing the shock to Sunday morning.
Two, Riley likes winning, likes playing the hero, likes to be loved, because all of those things stand a much better chance of happening in LA than in the difficult waters the Sooners are bound to encounter in the SEC.
It seems like OU’s administration might have thought about that before choosing to bolt. Not in deference to Riley, but in deference to the program’s fantastic history, which is unlikely to repeat itself quickly under anybody’s direction where it’s headed, but that’s another column.
The only thing I ever thought I might understand about Riley more than most is that his ambition is astronomical.
It wasn’t enough to be OU’s head coach, he had to be offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, too. It wasn’t enough to do that and chase championships, he had to reinvent the recruiting process, the spring game and signing day, too.
He doesn’t want to spin one plate higher, straighter and better than everybody else, he wants to spin all of them higher, straighter and better than everybody else.
He wants to succeed wildly and he wants to do it entirely on his own terms.
On the radio Sunday, Murdock wished he hadn’t let Riley off the hook with his LSU denial, saying he should have followed up asking if he’d still be OU’s head coach next season.
He also said, and there’s no reason not to believe him because the guy’s plugged in, that administration had balked at some of Riley’s wishes to conduct his job on his terms.
So he had to go.
He didn’t love his chances in the Sooners’ coming conference and may have liked them even less not getting to call every shot he wanted to call.
Where he’s going, all he must do first to get the key to the city is win more than he loses. Plus, the Trojans are a sleeping giant. Riley almost can’t lose there.
So he’s gone.
But did he have to lie to everybody? Did he have to play coy? Did he have to invoke his future with the program one day before he’d be leaving it?
He did not.