Is Lincoln Riley an overrated coach?
Oklahoma Sooners head coach Lincoln Riley has the reputation of an offensive genius. Oklahoma's starting quarterbacks have won the Heisman trophy in two of Riley’s three seasons at the helm. Jalen Hurts finished 2nd in Heisman voting this past season while Kyler Murray and Baker Mayfield won the award the previous two years. That alone has had many NFL teams interested in Riley’s services, but is that attention warranted?
Before you go crazy, I want to make it clear that I am not implying that Lincoln Riley is a bad coach. However, I’m not sure if every NFL team with a head coaching vacancy should prioritize him as their top target. In three seasons as the Sooners head coach, Lincoln Riley has a 36-6 record and has made the college football playoff in all three seasons. That is a very impressive track record but there are coaches that could do just as well if not better under the same circumstances. Oklahoma was 22-4 and had a college football playoff appearance in the two seasons before Lincoln Riley took over as the team's head coach. Oklahoma was a great program before Riley, and they likely will remain one when he leaves as well.
Has Lincoln Riley elevated the Oklahoma Sooners football program? They were the best team in the big 12 before Riley was the team's head coach but had yet to win a game in the college football playoff. Three seasons later, both those things remain true. Clemson was not a powerhouse before Dabo Swinney. With Swinney, the Tigers have made four national title games and won two of them. In four seasons before Nick Saban was Alabama's head coach, the team went just 26-24. Alongside Coach Saban, Alabama has made the national title game in over half of his seasons with the team and has won five of them. Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney have clearly done a better job with their respective teams than Lincoln Riley, so why aren’t they the ones getting constant interest from the NFL?
Riley has gotten lots of credit for Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray’s Heisman trophy campaigns. Before Riley was the Sooners head coach, Mayfield was one of the best quarterbacks in all of college football. After Riley, as a rookie in the NFL, Mayfield set the single-season rookie touchdown record. Kyler Murray also had success as a rookie in the NFL after leaving Riley. Mayfield and Murray have proven that they can be successful without Riley.
Lincoln Riley is a very good coach but he should not be the college football coach that is coveted the most by NFL teams. Oklahoma was the best team in the big 12 and made the college football playoff before Riley took over as the team's head coach. It’s fair to question how much better Riley has made Oklahoma because they are 0-3 in the college football playoff with him. Riley’s explosive offenses receive lots of attention, but is the goal to have a flashy team or to win national championships?