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“He’s a guy you want to follow,” OU players react to Lincoln Riley’s first year success

NORMAN, OK - DECEMBER 3: Lincoln Riley, offensive coordinator for the Oklahoma Sooners, hugs quarterback Baker Mayfield #6 of the Oklahoma Sooners after the game against the Oklahoma State Cowboys December 3, 2016 at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Oklahoma. Oklahoma defeated Oklahoma State 38-20 to become Big XII champions. (Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images)

PASADENA, Calif. – While his rise to coaching stardom was abrupt, OU head coach Lincoln Riley is making the most of it.

In June, OU head football coach Bob Stoops announced that he was retiring and was handing over the position to offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley.

“Probably the biggest challenge was starting in early June. That honestly was probably the biggest challenge. Whatever changes that we did want to make you felt like you had to get them done pretty quickly. I think there will be some more changes that we make that we feel like because of the timing it wasn’t appropriate to try to change maybe something bigger in June,” Riley said.

Bob Stoops is known as one of the most successful coaches in college football, but he decided to leave the sidelines after 18 seasons with the Sooners.

With such a big change, many wondered about the program’s transition from one of the most successful coaches in the country to one of the youngest.

“I wouldn’t say there was turmoil from Stoops to Riley at all. It was about as smooth as it could have possibly have gone. The two of them are great people, great leaders, great role models for us, and how they handled it together really set the foundation for how the players should handle it. And kudos to our leadership group for letting all the young guys know that we’re not going to let the standards drop at all. Coach Riley has been in the system and we’re familiar with what he likes to do, so for us, we just need to go out there and do our job,” Baker Mayfield said.

Riley had spent the previous two seasons as Oklahoma’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, presiding over one of the nation’s most powerful offenses.

Despite being one of the youngest head coaches in the country, Riley says he was ready to make the most of the opportunity.

“When I got that news, it was definitely a shock. You knew that Lincoln was going to be a head coach. I didn’t know where. But I know the special coach that he is. You knew someday he would get that opportunity. Was kind of a shocker, for coach to leave at that point was a shocker. Obviously, it worked out. They did an incredible job making that transition very smooth and credit to where we are right now for how easy it is,” said Erick Wren.

Players say that Riley seemed to relate to them in a new way that led to greater understanding between the coaching staff and teammates.

“Bob was a great coach and all that, but Coach Riley definitely, I feel like he understands. He can get the vibes of the team is what I feel like,” said Dimitri Flowers.

“Don’t get me wrong, Coach Riley is young, but he’s a guy that, he thrives to keep the engine running. I feel like he’s done a great job,” said Steven Parker.

“Just his confidence, the way he carries himself. Coach Riley, he’s a guy you want to follow. You can see that there’s no doubt in his mind that he believes that we can win this game. And when players see that, it’s contagious,” said Ogbonnia Okoronkwo.

While the players were inspired by the new head coach, other members of his coaching staff were also impressed with the 33-year-old.

“He was better than I ever anticipated. I think his ability to adapt to his team and to his players, he uses his 11 guys very systematically. That’s unique, and how he creates space for his players is very unique. Those are things that as defensive coordinators we see pretty consistently and that’s what all good coordinators do,” said OU defensive coordinator Mike Stoops.

OU assistant head coach Cale Gundy says that Riley immediately began earning the trust and respect of players and coaches through his work ethic.

“We’ve just been here to support him and try to make it as easy a transition. You know, the good thing, it’s not like it was his first year. He’s been here for a few years, so our players were very comfortable. We’re very comfortable in what we’re doing in our offense we’re running. It was an easier transition,” Gundy said.

For Steven Parker, he says he holds Lincoln Riley in the highest regards.

“For me, it means that you have a young coach that is very capable of being a legend that, in my eyes, may be the greatest coach that ever lived. There’s a lot of room for him to grow, just like we’re growing as players, so he’s growing as a coach,” Parker said.