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Looking at the LSU-Lincoln Riley Buzz Through the Lens of Oklahoma

Q/A with AllSooners publisher John Hoover to get the latest on the Oklahoma/Riley viewpoints on the Tigers job opening

LSU has reached the one month point in  coaching search and rumors are swirling around a number of prominent Tigers candidates. Most recently, the buzz has circled around Oklahoma's Lincoln Riley as one of the big name coaches LSU athletic director Scott Woodward would like to pursue.

With the Sooners still fighting for a College Football Playoff berth, Riley is a name that at this point is purely speculative but there's a ton of smoke as well. Here's what we were able to gather from AllSooners publisher John Hoover from the viewpoint of Riley and Oklahoma on a potential move to Baton Rouge.

1. The buzz around Lincoln Riley to LSU has really gained momentum in recent weeks. Based off conversations you’ve had at Oklahoma, what’s your general feel on how comfortable he is in Norman at the moment?

He’s extremely comfortable. One of Lincoln’s best traits is loyalty, and he feels an intense loyalty to Oklahoma and athletic director Joe Castiglione for giving him his first shot to be a head coach. 

He really does love this place, and I think he takes that cue from Bob Stoops, who’s still on the athletic department payroll and remains around the program — and thus is still an influential figure in Lincoln’s life. Bob sold him a long time ago on the merits of raising a family and setting down roots in Norman. 

Like most coaches, Lincoln views OU as a destination job, and I’d think it’s easy to want to be a part of that legacy — and be able to carve your own.

2. It’s pretty clear how much Riley must love Oklahoma for the opportunities he’s turned down in the past. What do you think it would take for Riley to depart Norman?

I mentioned loyalty. He has a very close tie to the Jones family in Dallas — yeah, that Jones family. He’s worked with Stephen Jones’ son, John Stephen Jones Jr., and as we all know, Jerry Jones is not averse to hiring people with whom he has close personal ties.

I think Lincoln would leave Oklahoma if the timing was right for an opportunity with the Dallas Cowboys. Not saying he will, but that’s really the only job I see him walking away from Oklahoma for.

That said, certain schools like LSU, Alabama, Texas A&M and a handful of others have the ability to pay a new coach an awful lot of money.

3. LSU has floated a large contract out there to see what kind of interest it would garner. Obviously this is conjecture at this point but should LSU offer $11-12 million a year, do you have a guess as to if Oklahoma would match?

My guess is that Oklahoma would not match that figure. OU has a history, spanning generations, of hiring brilliant young assistant coaches. That’s true whether it was Bud Wilkinson, Barry Switzer, Bob Stoops or Lincoln Riley.

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I think if Lincoln came to Joe Castiglione expecting a counter-offer to $12 million, Joe would tell him he needs to take the LSU job — and would be confident that he could hire the next great OU coach.

Remember, when Lincoln replaced Stoops in 2017, his initial salary was $3.1 million. Stoops had been making more than $5 million a year. OU would go that route again.

4. One of the reasons this is such an intriguing name to watch is Oklahoma’s impending move to the SEC. Does the fact the Sooners will soon be in the conference give Riley more incentive to stay?

I think that’s a solid theory. He knows Oklahoma will soon have many of the same resources available — from the massive TV revenue to recruits throughout the South — and probably views LSU as something of a lateral move, even if the salary bump is significant right now.

The easy sell is that LSU has won three national titles since Oklahoma’s last one in 2000. But a lot of coaches rate job security very high. LSU also has had three coaching changes since the Sooners’ last title. Oklahoma has had one. 

Lincoln strongly believes he can win a national championship at Oklahoma, and although he’s low-keyed the move to the SEC, he’s extremely excited to get there because he (and everyone around here) believes that will expedite the Sooners’ chances at breaking their 21-year national title drought.

5. What’s your gut feeling on how this all plays out? Does OU match the numbers LSU is reportedly throwing out there? Give us your thoughts.

My gut feeling is that LSU is floating these rumors and dollar figures through various backchannels to raise their profile and go after the biggest big fish they can. Do they really want to pay $12 million to a coach who’s 0-3 in playoff games and has been lording over a middling Big 12 Conference? The Sooners have put up incredible offensive numbers, but their defense has been poor under Riley — even after he had to fire Bob Stoops’ brother.

Maybe I’m badly misreading it, but I’m just not sure how sincere or enthusiastic LSU’s administration (or fan base) would be about it.

If the offer is real, OU probably won’t match it. Not with some of the financial turmoil the Norman campus has endured over the last five years (massive loan debts due to a recent construction boom; COVID cutbacks and various health and safety upgrades; a drop in enrollment; a dip in conference revenue).

And if OU doesn’t match the purported offer, would Riley uproot his young family to coach in Baton Rouge — where he might have to face his old school every year? I’m not convinced he would.

For more on the LSU side of the Lincoln Riley Buzz in Baton Rouge, read the following.