STILLWATER, Okla. — A few minutes into Bedlam, during a timeout, a familiar tune came wafting out of the speakers at Boone Pickens Stadium. The melody centered around a city 620 miles away from here, a place among the Louisiana swamps, in the heart of SEC country, amid the oak trees rooted in the soggy ground.
I spent last night in the arms of a girl in Louisiana
And though I'm out on the highway, my thoughts are still with her
Such a strange combination of a woman and a child
Such a strange situation stoppin' every hundred miles
Callin' Baton Rouge
This wasn’t necessarily an accident. It was a not-so-subtle jab from one rival, Oklahoma State, to another, Oklahoma, whose coach, Lincoln Riley, was/is at the center of LSU’s search for a head football coach. The same LSU that is located in, of course, Baton Rouge.
About three hours after the tune filled this raucous orange-painted pit of college football, Riley’s team collapsed late in a 37–33 rivalry loss that, if nothing else, lived up to its name. Oklahoma State returned a kickoff for a touchdown. Each team scored a TD after the other muffed a punt. OU forced a fumble that led to a safety. In all, a whopping 23 points were scored off turnovers or special teams miscues.
In the end, the No. 10 Sooners (10–2) gave away a nine-point second half lead, their offense scoring zero points in the second half against the seventh-ranked Cowboys (11–1), who march onward to next weekend’s Big 12 championship game against Baylor with their CFP hopes still firmly alive.
This story should probably be about the Pokes and their magical run this season. They possess one of the nation’s best defenses, an electric quarterback and a high-flying running back. They’re fun to watch. And they’ll be given their due later this week ahead of that meeting with the Bears (10–2)—a rematch of OSU’s 24–14 victory on Oct. 2.
For now, it’s time to call Baton Rouge, where LSU fans, boosters and even some school officials were left completely stunned by Riley’s admission after the game that he is, in fact, not a candidate for their job.
“I’m not going to be the next head coach at LSU,” he said when asked about the reports linking him to the gig.
Let’s first get something straight. The reports connecting him to the job—some even claiming he accepted it already—were wholly unsubstantiated and, for the most part, not credible.
However, this writer spent six years in Baton Rouge, five of them covering the football program. Over the last week or so, I have never witnessed the kind of buzz out of that city about one name since the 2015 season, when the university was poised to hire Jimbo Fisher before deciding to keep Les Miles.
Whatever happened between LSU and Riley wasn’t a complete fabrication. Influential boosters and others around the university expected him to be the program’s next leader. After all, how could he turn down a chance to be college football's highest-paid coach?
If this Silly Season has shown us anything, it’s that money—even resources, recruiting territory and conference affiliation—doesn’t always win out. It’s just not worth it, accepting a job at such a pressure cooker. LSU has fired the last two coaches, each of whom won a national title.
Riley’s decision, if there even was one, wasn’t the first. With three big-time openings available this offseason—LSU, Florida and USC—coaches around the country are standing pat, and getting paid to do so. Mel Tucker at Michigan State. James Franklin at Penn State. At Texas A&M, Fisher got a new contract before the silliness even began.
Most expect Luke Fickell to remain at Cincinnati. Brian Kelly has made it publicly known that he doesn’t plan to leave. Dave Aranda has made a commitment to agree to a new contract at Baylor. Even Kentucky’s Mark Stoops shot down a question about him leaving Big Blue Nation.
Sometimes, it’s just not worth it.
And so what now for the big three programs with open jobs? Iowa State’s Matt Campbell is an attractive option who could make a move. At Florida, Louisiana’s Billy Napier has emerged as the top candidate in a deal that could be finalized soon.
Is Napier now an option for the Tigers? Is Campbell heading to USC?
One thing seems certain: Baton Rouge might have called, but Riley didn't answer.
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