The new coach Lincoln Riley is convinced of a USC turnaround

From his new gilded seat on the Coliseum, with the city of Los Angeles suddenly within reach, Lincoln Riley surveyed the scene he was now presiding in disbelief. The Hollywood sign stretched over one shoulder over the distant Santa Monica Mountains. Above the other, the skyscrapers of the city center sprout from the expansive landscape. Trumpets rang out nearby and song girls swayed.

It was a surreal image for a coach who spent most of his life in West Texas and the Norman, Okla college football crowds.

“Wow,” Riley said from the podium, giving an audible gasp. “Is that real?”

For Trojan believers, it was perhaps even harder to believe that one of college football’s finest coaches could be here at the end of a three month search and decade of strolling the proverbial desert. Few would have imagined that USC would be able to entice a coach of Riley’s stature with his three consecutive college football playoff appearances and virtually unmatched 55-winning resume in Oklahoma.

But after months of back-channeling and gathering information, over 400 pages of data analysis, and a 50-slide presentation shown to key players during the search, here was evidence of what once seemed impossible as Riley in a blue suit and one Cardinal tie stood in front of a crowd on top of the Colosseum’s Scholarship Tower, which marks a major turning point in the sacred history of USC football.

“It was never our goal to change the landscape of college football in one of the greatest steps in football history. But that’s exactly what we did, “said USC Sporting Director Mike Bohn. “It sends a loud and powerful message to the college football world that this sleeping giant is wide awake.”

The call of that siren had reached Riley barely 36 hours earlier, after Oklahoma had lost to the state of Oklahoma at the end of the season. That evening, Bohn and his chief of staff, Brandon Sosna, anxiously watched the rivalry game from their suite at the Coliseum, knowing that a Sooner win could destroy their hopes for the long-top coach.

It wasn’t until the next morning that a parade of university leaders offered their pitch through Zoom. Up until that point, Riley said he hadn’t had serious discussions with any school – including the state of Louisiana, he said – about leaving Oklahoma.

The effect of the united message of USC leaders is immediate, he said. Riley was impressed with the pre-existing commitment to return the program to its former glory and the promise to continue building, including plans for possible facility improvements.

USC football coach Lincoln Riley, second from right, laughs with USC Board of Trustees Chairman Rick Caruso, left, USC President Carol L. Folt, and Sporting Director Mike Bohn during a press conference at the Coliseum on Monday.

(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

The move was made official within a few hours.

“They were totally in line with what they thought was USC football, what they thought we had to do to fill the gap and they agreed to do whatever it takes to get us to that point,” said Riley called. “It’s all I had to hear.”

After five years in Oklahoma, where he inherited a ready-made football power after the resignation of Bob Stoops, Riley was intrigued by the opportunity USC presented where full rebuilding was required in the years to come. It was not just the location, or the history, or the fertile recruiting ground, but the promise of an entirely new experience for his family – and especially his two young daughters – that convinced Riley to leave the comforts of Oklahoma.

“It is very, very important for me and my wife to experience new things in this life,” said Riley. “We are not afraid to take a risk. I don’t see that as a risk, but we’re not afraid of jumping, and that was the right time and everything about it makes sense. “

Speaking of leaving Oklahoma, where despised fans had unleashed their anger since the decision on Sunday, Riley choked and paused for a moment to collect himself.

“Honestly, I told the team earlier that it was the toughest decision of my life to come here,” said Riley.

USC Sporting Director Mike Bohn (right) hands new soccer coach Lincoln Riley a USC visor.

USC Sporting Director Mike Bohn (right) presents a USC visor to new soccer coach Lincoln Riley during a press conference at the Coliseum on Monday.

(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Even more difficult decisions are to be made. Riley brought four assistants from Oklahoma Monday morning, including defensive coordinator Alex Grinch, receiver trainer Dennis Simmons, strength and conditioning coach Bennie Wylie, and director of operations Clarke Stroud. However, no decision had yet been made about USC interim coach Donte Williams, who the government wanted to keep.

Riley wouldn’t say much more about Williams, his potential co-workers, or his thoughts on the list he inherited. The new coach will have the rare opportunity to see the team in action before taking the reins when USC takes on California in its postponed season finale on Saturday. Otherwise, the next two weeks will be spent hiring and working the recruitment path, where USC’s momentum is building behind Riley even before the early signing phase.

From then on, he’s confident that it won’t be long before USC returns to its former meaning.

“I think it can be done quickly. I do, ”said Riley. “I think there’s a lot of things going on in this program right now that we can absolutely build on. Nowadays, with the way college football works, you can change squads in so many different ways. We will proceed very consciously and creatively and consciously. The combination of the people we’re going to bring in, the players we’re going to use, the leadership we’re going to have. … I’m just looking at it, how can we not do it? How is it not supposed to work? “

Only time will tell if Riley lives up to the potential USC executives he was promised at the introduction. Bohn called him “one of the best coaches in all of football”. University President Carol L. Folt described Riley as “the perfect choice” to make USC “legendary” again.

A video board in the Coliseum features new USC soccer coach Lincoln Riley during his introductory press conference on Monday.

A video board in the Coliseum features new USC soccer coach Lincoln Riley during his introductory press conference on Monday.

(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Amid all the bold explanations, USC’s new coach looked down at the Coliseum and the sun-drenched scene behind him before offering his own.

“This place,” said Riley, “is going to be the mecca of college football.”

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