Of the many important lessons Lincoln Riley learned from Bob Stoops, the one about maintaining stability in the staff room should be near the top.
Riley said last week he doesn’t anticipate “any other major changes” to his 2021 coaching staff. That’s paramount to maintain the trajectory Riley has established in his first four seasons.
“We'll have a couple new titles, couple new things with guys (outside receivers coach Dennis Simmons was promoted to passing game coordinator and assistant head coach), but I don't anticipate any other changes at this point,” Riley said. “Although we always know that’s a possibility in our world.”
Riley had to hire someone for the third year in a row this offseason when he brought in former Sooner Joe Jon Finley to coach OU’s tight ends and H-backs.
Last year Riley added Jamar Cain and ex-Sooner DeMarco Murray. The year before, defensive coordinator Alex Grinch, cornerbacks coach Roy Manning and linebackers coach Brian Odom.
So far, each one has elevated his position group from his predecessor. That’s the expectation for Finley, whose predecessor, Shane Beamer, is now the head coach at South Carolina. Heady stuff.
Still, Finley’s accomplishments as a tight ends coach have been well documented.
Another big part of Beamer’s contributions at OU came on special teams, where special teams analyst Ryan Dougherty will now have a bigger role.
Riley expressed an appreciation for the work done not just by Dougherty, but by all of his assistants on the support staff.
“Those guys, our quality controls, our GAs, do such a tremendous job, and they’re valuable assets,” Riley said. “We’re going to be able to welcome back that group as a whole as well, which I’m very excited about. I think top to bottom, it’s probably the top quality control/GA staff that we’ve had. And these guys really make a big impact.
Those roles most often go to young coaches trying to break into the business. They can be thankless jobs, with long hours and low pay, but Riley values their contributions.
“Ty Darlington, Erick Wren, Connor McQueen on the offensive side, Parker Henry, Will Johnson, Austin Woods on the defensive side,” Riley said, “and then Ryan Dougherty, special teams, who jumped in for coach Beamer a few times (including the Cotton Bowl) last year.”
Darlington (2012-15), Wren (2016-17), Johnson (2015-17) and Woods (2010-13) all played for Oklahoma. McQueen (Texas A&M, 2012-16) and Henry (Washington State, 2012-16) also recently played big-time college football. Dougherty (East Carolina 2002-06) has been off the field a little longer and has established himself as a special teams mind with his history as a kicking instructor and on special teams at East Carolina and Lehigh.
Dougherty is the coach who found Jake Mann, the No. 1 long snapper in the nation in the class of 2021, and helped convince Mann to flip his verbal commitment last week from Florida State to Oklahoma.
“Those guys have been outstanding, and they’re all going to be great, great coaches and are going to get some big-time opportunities here pretty quickly,” Riley said. “But we’re excited to have all those guys back and a part of our team once again.”
As for the 10 full-time aides, Riley has built a staff of dynamic recruiters who absolutely know their position and, after some growing pains, had a fantastic 2020 season.
Grinch’s accomplishments — raising OU from a bottom-20 defense to a top-20 defense in just two seasons — speak for themselves. As a group, OU’s corners played better in 2020 under Manning than they have in a decade. In one season, Cain developed Oklahoma’s edge rushers into one of college football’s most feared groups. And Murray, still the greenest coach on the staff, got two career backups, a true freshman and senior Rhamondre Stevenson to play at the highest level of their career so far.
And the continued contributions of Cale Gundy, Bill Bedenbaugh, Calvin Thibodeaux and Simmons give Riley plenty of reason for even more optimism in 2021 and beyond.
“Excited about the staff we have,” Riley said. “I think that we’ll continue to grow and improve together as a staff, and I think the continuity here has been so important. I think it’s been key to any of the successes we have had, and I think it’s important going forward as much as you can.
“Now, if a guy gets a great opportunity to go be a head coach or to go to take a major step up, then you’re always happy for him. But I think us being able to have the continuity we’ve had has been critical.”
OU assistant coach salaries
What Oklahoma football assistant coaches were paid in 2020:
- Alex Grinch, defensive coordinator/safeties: $1.8 million (up from $1.4 million
- Bill Bedenbaugh, co-offensive coordinator/offensive line: $810,000 (up from $750,000)
- Cale Gundy, co-offensive coordinator/inside receivers: $580,000 (up from $535,000)
- Shane Beamer *, assistant HC for offense/tight ends/H-backs: $540,000 (up from $470,000)
- Dennis Simmons *, associate HC/outside receivers: $510,000 (up from $450,000)
- Roy Manning, cornerbacks: $470,000 (up from $425,000)
- Calvin Thibodeaux, defensive line: $435,000 (up from $375,000)
- Brian Odom, inside linebackers: $435,000 (up from $375,000)
- Jamar Cain, defensive ends/outside linebackers: $435,000 (Ruffin McNeill made $570,000 in 2019)
- DeMarco Murray, running backs: $350,000 (Jay Boulware made $470,000 in 2019)
* Note: Beamer was hired as HC at South Carolina and has been replaced by Joe John Finley. Simmons has been promoted to assistant HC and passing game coordinator