Lincoln Riley hired as USC football head coach

The 38-year-old comes to Los Angeles after five seasons at Oklahoma.

A photo of Oklahoma's Lincoln Riley with his hands on his hips, wearing a red Oklahoma sweater and white Oklahoma visor.

USC has found its guy.

The school is hiring Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley as its next head football coach. USC athletic director Mike Bohn announced the official hiring Sunday.

“We are ecstatic to announce Lincoln Riley as our new head coach,” Bohn said. “Lincoln is universally considered one of the brightest and most talented football coaches in the nation,”

Riley went 55-10 across parts of five seasons as Oklahoma’s head coach, leading the Sooners to Big 12 titles in each of his first four full seasons at the helm. Oklahoma has been viewed as one of college football’s premier offenses during that time span, largely aided by recruiting classes that ranked in or just outside the top 10 in each season under Riley’s leadership. His departure comes before the Sooners’ transition to the SEC in the coming years.

The Sooners reached the College Football Playoff three times under Riley, in 2017, 2018 and 2019, but lost in the semifinals on all occasions. Riley was both the Big 12 Coach of the Year and the AP Big 12 Coach of the Year in 2018 after leading Oklahoma to a 12-2 record and one of his four Big 12 Championships.

The Trojans have not made a CFP appearance in the eight years of the current playoff format and have only one Pac-12 title since the 2009 championship game, so Riley’s experience will offer USC the chance to return to dominance in its conference — a fact that Riley focused on in his initial statement as USC head coach.

“I am truly excited to come to USC and join the Trojan Family as its new head football coach,” Riley said. “USC has an unparalleled football tradition with tremendous resources and facilities, and the administration has made a deep commitment to winning. I look forward to honoring that successful tradition and building on it.”

Riley will be tasked with turning around a USC program that clinched bowl ineligibility for the second time in four years just yesterday, as well reversing a diminishing recruiting presence both in Los Angeles and nationally that has accelerated the Trojans’ downward spiral in recent years. USC’s head coaching search commenced upon Clay Helton’s Sept. 13 firing after the former head coach went 46-24 across seven seasons at USC.

Worth noting, Riley’s hiring comes more than two weeks before mid-December’s start of Early Signing Period, theoretically giving Riley additional time to salvage a recruiting class that currently ranks at No. 67 in the nation. USC lost four-star quarterback Devin Brown on Wednesday, and Mater Dei cornerback Domani Jackson, California’s No. 1 recruit according to 247Sports, decommitted on Nov. 14.

Bohn and USC president Carol Folt highlighted Riley’s player development and recruiting skills in the hiring announcement.

“His successes and offensive accolades as a head coach the past five years are astonishing,” Bohn said. “Lincoln will recruit relentlessly, develop his players on and off the field, and implement a strong culture in which the program will operate with the highest level of integrity and professionalism.”

“Lincoln Riley is the perfect choice for our new head coach,” Folt added. “He is known for caring about the development and character of his players and winning at the highest level.”

Riley also has experience working with talented quarterbacks — including 2017 Heisman winner Baker Mayfield, 2018 Heisman winner Kyler Murray and 2019 Heisman runner-up Jalen Hurts — experience that should be appealing to a USC team with a potential budding star in freshman quarterback Jaxson Dart.

Riley’s name had been linked to USC in the days leading up to Sunday’s announcement, but the 38-year-old wasn’t viewed as the frontrunner in a search that included Iowa State’s Matt Campbell and Baylor’s Dave Aranda, among others.

Just last night, Riley said he was “not going to be the next head coach at LSU” after No. 13 Oklahoma’s 37-33 loss to No. 5 Oklahoma State. Riley also mentioned that Oklahoma’s administration, athletic director and university president “always have conversations about the future and certainly with all that’s changing right now on the college landscape.”

Riley wasn’t lying — he won’t be the next head coach at LSU. Instead, he’ll be coming to USC, where he’s become arguably the most significant head coaching hire in program history. Ever since Helton’s firing, and even well before, Trojan fans had been clamoring for USC to make a splash that would send ripples throughout the college football world and position the program to return to the ranks of college football’s elite.

Whether that latter part happens remains, obviously, to be seen. But the splash came on Sunday, and it came in the form of Lincoln Riley.