Could Lincoln Riley be the answer the Cowboys are looking for?
It’s easy to get lumbered with a stereotype in football coaching and, once acquired, it can be tough to shake. As with anything in life, there are good things to be known for and bad things. Becoming tagged as college football’s ultimate “quarterback whisperer” is a pretty darn good one.
Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley is the man bestowed with that title and as rapid as the 36-year-old’s rise has been, there are many who believe his career trajectory could soon trend upward even more steeply.
Bedlam, where the seventh-ranked Sooners will take on intra-state rival No. 21 Oklahoma State in Stillwater on Saturday, looms large as the next stepping stone between Riley’s team and the College Football Playoff berth they crave.
Yet the talk around Riley is of even bigger things — such has been the success of his development of quarterbacks such as consecutive top NFL Draft picks Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray, and current Oklahoma incumbent (and Alabama transfer) Jalen Hurts.
Several betting markets list Riley as the favorite to be the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys on the first day of the 2020 NFL season, ahead of even current coach Jason Garrett and an entire field of possible candidates, should Jerry Jones decided the time for a change is right.
FS1’s Colin Cowherd believes the oddsmakers have it correct. With rumblings of discontent in Cowboy Nation following the team’s offensive struggles in a 13-9 loss to the New England Patriots last Sunday, talk is rife that Garrett may not be long for the job.
— Herd w/Colin Cowherd (@TheHerd) November 25, 2019
“(Jones) has not offered Garrett a deal,” Cowherd said on The Herd. “I think Jerry already knows who his next coach is. I’m not sure he’s ready to hire him, but I know who Jerry’s next coach is when he decides to hire him. It may be this year, it may be two years down the road … It’s Lincoln Riley at Oklahoma.
“There are two things to think about. Lincoln Riley, first of all, is brilliant. He makes every quarterback work. He made Baker Mayfield into a star. Jalen Hurts was benched in Alabama and he’s a star. Kyler Murray was a baseball guy over a football guy — made him into a star. Dak Prescott … that’d be a pretty good fit now, wouldn’t it? A QB who needs another level?”
The Cowboys are 6-5 and clinging to a one-game lead in the NFC East, a division that has five fewer combined wins (15) than any other in the NFL this season. The campaign has not brought the kind of seamless success that was hoped for when Jones ended Ezekiel Elliott’s summer holdout with a blockbuster contract offer. His next agenda item of player business, it is assumed, is to reward Prescott with his own big, long-term deal, which would only strengthen Riley’s case further.
The Cowboys have not beaten a single team with a winning record and Jones is frustrated, describing the nature of the Patriots defeat as a “significant setback.”
“The head coach is employed in the world of Jerry Jones,” wrote David Moore in the Dallas Morning News. “And the Cowboys owner is running out of patience. That’s a conversation Garrett can’t avoid.”
As for Riley, he has other things on his mind and has repeatedly insisted he is more than content to remain in college football. Bedlam is a monumental occasion in any given season, but there is even more than usual on the line here, in one of the juiciest matchups of a Rivalry Week filled with intrigue. (Bedlam will hit prime time on Saturday, November 30, when No. 7 Oklahoma visits No. 21 Oklahoma State at 8 p.m. ET on FOX.)
The CFB Playoff picture could get seriously messy, but if Oklahoma wins this weekend and goes on to take the Big 12 championship, it’s hard to see them being left out of the field of four. According to FiveThirtyEight, the Sooners currently have a 43 percent chance of making the Playoff, which rises to 83 percent assuming they win out.
#Bedlam always big.
— Oklahoma Football (@OU_Football) November 25, 2019
Riley — whose career in coaching started at age 20, when he was encouraged to give up playing at Texas Tech and gained internal notice by teaching Graham Harrell the vaunted “Air Raid” system in Mike Leach’s program — is seen as one of the most promising minds in the sport.
After positions running the offense at East Carolina and then for Bob Stoops at Oklahoma, he was tabbed as Stoops’ successor three years ago. There were suggestions at the time that it might be too much for him, too soon. A 34-5 record — plus the forward-reaching success of Mayfield and Murray, would indicate that certainly has not been the case.
When asked about a potential jump to the pros, Riley suggests it’s something that would only happen a decade or more from now. Yet Cowherd insists that for all his comfort and productivity in Norman, Riley would find the Cowboys job too tempting to resist if the offer came his way.
“I think he’s going to take this job, I just don’t know when he’s going to take it,” Cowherd added. “Every time Jerry has won a Super Bowl, he has hired a college coach. Jimmy Johnson; Barry Switzer. Jerry’s reality is that these college guys work. He played college football; he loves college football. I think Jerry has his guy.”
There is still a lot to play out here. Oklahoma’s season could fall apart on Saturday, with Oklahoma State (yes, the Cowboys) hellbent on trying to make sure that happens. Yet the Sooners still harbor serious national title aspirations for themselves, especially after their thrilling comeback against Baylor to save the season two weeks ago.
Meanwhile, the Cowboys (the Dallas variety) face a Thanksgiving matchup against the in-form Buffalo Bills and the looming necessity to get things back on track. With the NFC stacked with powerful Wild Card contenders, winning the division is the team’s only realistic shot at getting into the postseason.
Garrett for his part, feels he can turn things around, eight years into his role and with an 83-64 record. He may or may not get the chance to do so. Either way, there is a soap opera brewing in Dallas and Riley, thanks to his own excellence, has given himself a shot to play a starring role in it.
🕖 7 p.m.
— Oklahoma Football (@OU_Football) November 25, 2019