As Lincoln Riley watched Tuesday’s football practice, he wasn’t looking at the field in front of him.
He was looking at USC’s future.
In the second practice since Riley was hired on Sunday, and the first open to media, the former Oklahoma head coach meandered along the sidelines, soaking in his new environment. The other faces showing themselves for the first time at a USC practice were former Oklahoma defensive coordinator Alex Grinch and wide receivers coach Dennis Simmons. Both coaches will join Riley’s staff at USC.
Athletic director Mike Bohn and chief of staff Brandon Sosna made a rare appearance at practice as well, highlighting the significance of the occasion. The two were seen talking with the new additions to the Trojan family.
Caught in the middle of the new staff’s introduction, the current staff focused on preparing for USC’s upcoming game against Cal. Current USC defensive coordinator Todd Orlando and wide receivers coach Keary Colbert prepared their players for Saturday’s game as their presumed replacements watched them from a distance.
The team, although not initially expecting Riley to be the next head coach, expressed delight with the hire. Freshman quarterback Jaxson Dart would not publicize what players said in a team meeting but said the team did not initially realize that Riley was on USC’s radar.
“I think a lot of us were pretty surprised,” Dart said. “We didn’t really hear his name much in the conversation about it. I think a lot of us are excited. We know his history and what he’s done to all of the programs that he’s been to.”
Riley is widely considered a quarterback whisperer with two Oklahoma quarterbacks winning Heisman Trophies during his coaching tenure from 2017-21, and Dart could be added to that list very soon if all goes according to plan.
Redshirt senior defensive lineman Nick Figueroa shared similar excitement about the new head coach. However, Figueroa was most excited to know that the coaching search is now over.
“There’s a lot of optimism for the future,” Figueroa said. “I think a lot of us have been in this sort of gray area of what the future may hold … I think it’s nice to have some clarity.”
Even with the obvious elephant in the room, the team was preparing for Saturday’s game as if nothing had happened. When asked if he will be on Riley’s staff, interim head coach Donte Williams said he had not even asked Riley about the subject and that he will deal with those details after the season ends.
“My main focus is all about Cal and only Cal,” Williams said. “I’ll focus on everything else after this particular ball game. Otherwise, I’m cheating these guys, I’m cheating these kids, I’m cheating these coaches.”
USC is ineligible for a bowl game even with a win on Saturday, but Williams said that he will treat this game as the team’s bowl game. Williams wants the team to remain dialed in on their final opponent so the Trojans can get the most out of this season.
His focus may have been on Cal, but Williams could not resist praising the athletic department and Riley.
“I always told you that the administration at USC would do the right thing, and they made a splash hire,” Williams said. “Bright, bright, bright future for USC football going ahead.”