At 35, Lincoln Riley is already one of the top coaches in college football. In his first year as head coach, he guided Oklahoma football to the College Football Playoff.
Obviously, with Baker Mayfield behind center last season, NFL executives got to see plenty of Riley’s offense. According to multiple reports over the last few months, they’re excited about what they see.
As the NFL game becomes more like college, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Riley start to land on pro teams’ shortlists for vacancies. It certainly doesn’t hurt that an offensive guru even younger than him—Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay—is currently thriving in his second year.
If the Dallas Cowboys fire Jason Garrett, Riley has already popped up in the odds to land that job.
NFL writers Robert Mays and Kevin Clark from The Ringer have another NFL destination they prefer for Lincoln Riley: the Cleveland Browns.
After an exasperated discussion on “The Ringer NFL Show” podcast about embattled Browns coach Hue Jackson, both writers said that in an ideal world, they’d like to see Riley and Mayfield reunited in Cleveland.
Clark: “Who would you hire next year?”
Mays: “Lincoln Riley. Why not?”
Clark: “Yeah…I think so. I worry that someone like the Cowboys this year are going to give him a blank check.”
Mays: “I think it’s about how much he likes Baker Mayfield. I don’t know the answer to that. If he really, really thinks Baker Mayfield is special, I think he takes that job. If not, then he doesn’t.”
It definitely sounds like some NFL team will give it a shot, given Riley’s profile and how it compares to some of the other hot head coaching candidates of the last few years.
A new NFL.com column names Riley as a “coaching name to watch,” and a possible choice for “this year’s Sean McVay.”
The expansion of college elements into the pro game and a dearth of obvious candidates from the NFL coordinator ranks has some league executives predicting a college coach gets a job this year. And no name comes up more than Riley’s. He’s still just 35 years old and in his second year running the Sooners after two years as Bob Stoops’ OC there. But Riley has impressed NFL scouts who come through the school, particularly with the way he developed current Browns QB Baker Mayfield. He’s an offensive guru, and the modern NFL is a points race. My understanding is that Riley would listen if an NFL team calls and be intrigued by the idea of testing his approach at the next level. It’d be a huge jump, no doubt, but Riley’s experience leading a high-profile college program — recruiting, selling, influencing people — is valuable training for the job.
Still, there’s also the possibility that he wants to stay in college. Head coach of the Oklahoma Sooners is a pretty good gig.