Million-dollar salaries for football assistants might be commonplace now in college football. Until Lincoln Riley came along, Oklahoma’s athletic department was holding fast against doling out seven-figure deals.
OU gave Riley an extension Thursday that upped his annual salary to $1.3 million for the next three years. The football program’s announcement wasn’t exactly subtle:
Riley’s rising profile around the country has undoubtedly come up plenty on the recruiting trail, with rivals warning prospects that OU’s offensive coordinator will soon leave for a head coaching job. That clearly played a role in his new contract. Frankly, though, I suspect the agreement has bigger implications.
The normal track for an ambitious young college football coach with aspirations of leading an elite program starts at the Group of 5 level - Tom Herman at Houston, Urban Meyer at Bowling Green, etc.
Yet, even though I admit I don’t know Riley from Adam, I do think the G5 on-ramp just closed off for him. The cost of prying him away from Norman went up significantly with Thursday’s announcement. On top of that, he’s now making more than the vast majority of head coaches on that level. Doesn't sound like a move he's making soon.
Sure, a lower-rung program from the Power 5 could come calling. South Carolina met with Riley last season, for example.
The money in that case might be there, but the North Carolina States and Boston Colleges are what they are for a reason. (Ask Mike Stoops about his time at Arizona.)
Riley’s only 33. Why rush into a head coaching job just to have one? No need to derail a promising career at a dead-end stop.
Maybe a top 20 kind of opportunity? UCLA, Tennessee and Texas A&M could open up in seven months. Bob Stoops left Florida for OU under similar circumstances. If such an opportunity presented itself to Riley after the upcoming season, no one could blame him if he took it. Those kinds of programs probably don't have much interest in unproven head coaches, though.
Whatever the case may be, the size of Riley’s salary and duration of the contract do suggest at least a willingness to wait it out in Norman. Consequently, I wouldn’t be shocked if he has reason to believe he’ll succeed Stoops when the Sooners’ sitting head coach hangs it up.