By Arnie Leshin
Oklahoma, where the wind comes sweeping down the plain, tornadoes are normal, and Lincoln Riley traded all these things for the beach, hanging out with celebrities, living it up in Hollywood, and leaving behind a stunned football program in Norman.
Yup, he’s no longer coaching the Sooners, and just two days after the 28-24 loss in Stillwater to Oklahoma State, he was up, up and away to his new surroundings as head coach at Southern California. No sweeping winds, no tornadoes, but he sure left behind a mess.
But don’t fret, you Sooner Boomers, it isn’t like your team is going out of business. It isn’t like a new head coach will install a whole new system after a number of recruits have recommitted from putting on a crimson and white uniform and committing to another campus or after a number of its present players have decided to enter the transfer portal and try on a new uniform.
Yes, it sure was a surprise and a bummer for sure. And Trojan fans were undecided on what this will or can bring to a program that isn’t the gridiron threat it once was.
No matter, Oklahoma Athletic Director Joe Castiglione says he’s in the sooner than later mold of finding a new head coach, and he’s got a rather long list of some who would want to coach his Sooners, and some who are still under contract elsewhere and will be coaching in bowl games.
But Bob Stoops, the former Oklahoma head coach who will be coaching the Sooners in whatever bowl game they are invited to, has answered the call, has refused to accept money for this and he will have the joy of coaching his son, Drake, in the senior wide receiver’s final game.
Is this one of those who might unretire to return to the sidelines, probably not, but it’s no secret that a long line is out there for Castiglione to choose from, and who knows if those on his list can answer the call for the perennial Big 12 champions and a national power for decades.
Let’s start with those still coaching, preparing their teams for bowl games.
There’s Matt Campbell, the Iowa State head coach, there’s Luke Fiskell, the Cincinnati head coach, there’s Ole Miss head coach Lane Kriffen, there’s Brent Venables, the defensive coordinator for Clemson, there’s Baylor head coach Dave Aranda.
There’s also National Football League’s Arizona Cardinals present head coach Kliff Kingsbury, who previously was head coach at Texas Tech and now has his starting quarterback and Heisman Award winner, Kylee Murray, but he also says he has a 9-2 team thinking maybe Super Bowl, and would not want to discuss anything else.
Then there’s present Sooners defensive coordinator Alex Grinch, and a familiar name to Oklahoma fans in Josh Heupel, the last Sooner quarterback to win the national championship, and who has been coaching football for quite some time, and some say he’s been an asset wherever he’s been.
As for those who might not be coaching right now, well that’s up to Castiglione, who has also interested athletes to Norman from his high school in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., St. Thomas Aquinas, which has a nationally-ranked program. But to bring in a new head coach who’s been out of the loop is not on his list.
Then there’s the recruits, and although some have already recommitted after verbally committing to Oklahoma, some already making the switch to USC, and others just fielding their way around after this sudden turnabout.
But there’s plenty who want to be a Boomer Sooner, who want to play before capacity home crowds, who have decided on Oklahoma, and that’s where they are headed.
Southern Cal has already lost a pair of quality running backs in Stephen Carr and Marksse Steff, both recommitting to Oklahoma. Then there’s native Oklahomian Caden Hayden, a 6-2, 195 wide receiver who has been All-State three-straight years. There’s Jayden Rowe, a 6-3, 210
defensive back who has had a load of recruiting offers but settled on Oklahoma.
The Sooners also have former running back DeMarco Murray who now coaches their running backs, and he recently met with the two running back, Stepp and Carr after the two recommitted from Southern Cal to Oklahoma. These two played against each other in high school and had received a load of offers.
Murray in fact is outgoing, popular and knows the art of carrying the ball, which has impressed many of recruits who spoke with him.
And perhaps Oklahoma’s best running back recruit is No. 2-ranked Gavin Sawchuck, who is also an honor student and has attracted over two dozen schools. He is swift, has great hands, and played both ways as an All-State back.
Also verbally declaring to Oklahoma is linebacker Kobie Mckin, who is quick, strong, aggressive, and stands 6-5 and tips the scale at 230. Another heavily recruited running back is Konontre Bradford, and he told Murray that he was set on USC, but after he visited Norman he changed his mind and declared for Oklahoma.
There’s also interest in Quinn Ewers, a rising quarterback who recently left Ohio State, and who says he’s looking around and Oklahoma is on his list.
There’s always a need for good offensive linemen and the Sooners have reeled in two very good ones in Jacob Sexton and Jake Taylor, both in the 6-4, 245 range and highly recruited by three other Big 12 schools and by five from the Big Ten.
Now that’s not bad, and it’s still early. Heck, it’s Oklahoma, one of the better athletic programs in the land. Its softball team won its fifth national championship last season and is favored to add another by replacing four reserves who have left the program with about the entire roster returning and four big-time recruits.
If you like golf, the school’s men and women’s teams have won the national title seven times each. There’s been quality teams in basketball and baseball, in tennis, and despite the winds and tornadoes, it can brag about the broadway show and movie, “Oklahoma.”, and along with Boomer Sooner, you can cheer with O-k-l-a-h-o-m-a, and that they do.
Of the four Sooners who decided to head elsewhere, the big name is sophomore quarterback Spencer Rattler, who was a Heisman candidate after a stellar freshman year, but lost his role of starter when he had back-to-back fumbles against Texas and was replaced by true freshman Caleb Williams, hung around on the sidelines, helmet in hand, but was called on only two times, and both came late in the games.
It was even before Williams says he will stay at Oklahoma that Rattler had made his decision. He and Williams were both recruited by Riley.
So Riley can now sport a bathing suit, purchase a new house with a pool, and mingle with the Hollywood and Beverly Hills folks as Oklahoma goes though another winter that he left behind to escape snow storms, but in return, politics have turned California into one of the states in poverty, and where it’s not the good old sunshine state anymore.