Lincoln Riley

USC Officially Hires Lincoln Riley

The NFL will have to wait. On Sunday, Lincoln Riley confirmed that he is leaving the University of Oklahoma to become the next head coach of the USC Trojans. 

[RELATED: Oklahoma Eyeing Cardinals’ Kliff Kingsbury]

Leaving OU was probably the most difficult decision of my life,” said Riley in a statement issued by Oklahoma. “OU is one of the best college football programs in the country, and it has been forever…This was a personal decision solely based on my willingness to go take on a new challenge, and I felt like it was the right opportunity for me and my family to do that.”

Not long ago, many believed that Riley’s next challenge would come in the professional ranks. Multiple NFL clubs have shown interest, including the Eagles earlier this year, before they settled on Nick Sirianni.

Riley has amassed a 55-10 record since taking over for Bob Stoops in 2017. Though the National Championship has eluded the Sooners, Riley’s work with No. 1 overall picks Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray made him a hot NFL candidate. Riley’s still just 38 years of age, so he could make the leap sometime in the future. For now, he’s headed to Southern California while Stoops resumes his old job in an interim capacity.

In related news, Oklahoma has interest in Kliff Kingsbury, but it’s hard to imagine him leaving the first-place Cardinals.

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Oklahoma Eyeing Cardinals’ Kliff Kingsbury

University of Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley has agreed to become the next head coach of the USC Trojans, according to sources who spoke with Pete Thamel of Yahoo Sports. In turn, the Sooners’ own search is underway, and they’re targeting Cardinals HC Kliff Kingsbury (Twitter link via Adam Schefter of ESPN.com). 

Kingsbury still has one full year remaining on his deal and it’s not clear if he’d consider a return to the college ranks. Given his recent success, it’d be nothing short of shocking. At 9-2, the Cardinals are bonafide contenders for the first time in a long time.

Kingsbury made his name at Texas Tech, even though his teams went just 35-40 during his time there. In an era where new bowls continue to spawn, the Red Raiders only qualified for bowl games in three of those six seasons. There was also a noticeable drop from the final Patrick Mahomes season (fifth in scoring) to the post-Mahomes teams — 23rd in points in 2017, 100th in 2018 — for the Red Raiders’ offense.

Despite the hiccups, Kingsbury’s quarterback-whispering skills scored him the Cardinals’ job, ahead of several big-name candidates with pro experience. Now, in Year 3, there’s no questioning that the Cardinals made the right pick. Even with Kyler Murray sidelined and Colt McCoy under center, Kingsbury’s Cardinals have managed to go 2-1 in their last three games.

The Cardinals will look to pad their NFC lead next Sunday when they face the Bears in Chicago.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

2021 NFL Head Coaching Search Tracker

Exiting the regular season, six teams are searching for new head coaches. That number is up from last season but not quite as high as 2019, though there may well be more vacancies that emerge during the playoffs.

Listed below are the head coaching candidates that have been linked to each of the teams with vacancies, along with their current status. If and when other teams decide to make head coaching changes, they’ll be added to this list. Here is the current breakdown:

Updated 1-27-21 (7:05pm CT)

Atlanta Falcons

Detroit Lions

Houston Texans

Jacksonville Jaguars

Los Angeles Chargers

New York Jets

Philadelphia Eagles

Eagles Interested In Lincoln Riley

The Eagles contacted University of Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley hours after firing Doug Pederson, according to Geoff Mosher of Inside The Birds. We’ve heard Riley’s name come up in recent years, but the Eagles are the first team in this cycle to reach out to him directly. 

[RELATED: Eagles Fire Doug Pederson]

Riley has amassed a 45-8 record since taking over for Bob Stoops in 2017. Though the Sooners came up short in the postseason, Riley’s work with No. 1 overall picks Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray has put him squarely on the pro radar. Riley also coached Eagles starting QB Jalen Hurts, making him a logical candidate for Philly.

In terms of the characteristics, I’d rather not specify, but I can tell you no matter who we have, it needs to be a leader of coaches, a leader of players and someone who represents the organization in a great leadership way,” owner Jeffrey Lurie said on Monday. “I think there’s a couple ways to skin that cat. You can hire somebody really steeped in offense or you’ve seen great offenses coached by head coaches coming from the defensive side.

I don’t think there’s any predilection for one over the other, but I do think somebody that is constantly curious of where the league is headed and what you need to do to have really good units and again, without a really good elite offense, I tend to err on that side. But not that side of the ball for head coach. Doesn’t matter.

The Eagles may also consider Chiefs quarterbacks coach Mike Kafka for the vacancy. Kafka, like Pederson, comes from the Andy Reid coaching tree. The Eagles even wanted to hire him as their offensive coordinator a year ago, but Reid blocked the move.

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Coaching Rumors: Crennel, Quinn, Fitzgerald

The Texans fired head coach/general manager Bill O’Brien last month following an 0-4 start, and interim HC Romeo Crennel has righted the ship a bit. Under Crennel’s watch, Houston is 2-2, and while those two wins came against the lowly Jaguars, the Texans came within an eyelash of toppling the Titans in Week 6.

Crennel, 73, has been viewed as a placeholder for 2020, but he could retain the gig through the 2021 season, as Ian Rapoport of NFL.com writes. COVID-19 restrictions will probably not permit a traditional in-person search this offseason, so teams hiring a new HC could be committing a boatload of money to a person they have never even met. As such, the Texans might stick with Crennel next season and seek their long-term answer the following year. If that happens, VP of football operations Jack Easterby may continue serving as GM.

Of course, the team has been connected to Chiefs OC Eric Bieniemy, who is a favorite of QB Deshaun Watson. Bieniemy is widely expected to secure a head coaching job this offseason regardless of travel restrictions, so if Houston wants him, it might need to take a leap of faith. And John McClain of the Houston Chronicle says the Texans will indeed hire a new GM and HC at season’s end, while fellow Houston Chronicle scribe Aaron Wilson says the search remains active (Twitter links).

Now for more a few more coaching rumors:

  • The Falcons parted ways with HC Dan Quinn earlier this season, but it doesn’t sound like Quinn will be out of work for long. Per Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports, several teams have made it known that they would like to have Quinn on their staff in 2021, and coordinators who might become head coaches next season have tapped Quinn as their first choice for defensive coordinator. La Canfora says Quinn could rejoin the Seahawks given Seattle’s defensive struggles this year, and he could also end up as the 49ers‘ DC if Robert Saleh gets a head coaching job.
  • Given the financial toll that the pandemic has taken on college athletic departments, top college coaches have become increasingly receptive to a jump to the NFL, as La Canfora details in a separate piece. Names like Lincoln Riley, Jim Harbaugh, and Brian Kelly, who frequently come up in offseason coaching rumors, will again be at the forefront of the discussion in 2021.
  • Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald has drawn interest from NFL teams in the past, and as of January 2019, he indicated he was not interested in NFL opportunities. However, COVID-19 might make him more receptive to an HC job in the pros, and his hometown Bears could come calling. La Canfora says Bears ownership is high on Fitzgerald, and if Chicago moves on from Matt Nagy, Fitzgerald might be on the top of the team’s wish-list.

Latest On Cowboys’ Coaching Search

Jason Garrett is still technically the coach of the Cowboys, but everything continues to indicate they’ll be moving on with the team already scheduling interviews with Marvin Lewis and Mike McCarthy. Here’s the latest on everything pertaining to Dallas’ search:

  • The Cowboys were conspicuously quiet for a while, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t working behind the scenes. The McCarthy interview news just leaked Friday morning but the former Packers coach was apparently originally scheduled to interview on Thursday before rescheduling to accommodate his Browns interview, according to David Moore of the Dallas Morning News (Twitter link). That proves owner Jerry Jones hasn’t just been sitting on his hands after the season ended.
  • Garrett, meanwhile, is continuing to lobby Jones for another chance, as Jay Glazer of FOX Sports reported in Sunday’s FOX pregame show. Jones has been steadfast in his decision to move on from Garrett, but Garrett is doing everything he can to keep his post. Meanwhile, the team’s interview with McCarthy went so well that McCarthy stayed an extra day in Dallas.
  • Baylor coach Matt Rhule and Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley have also been connected to the Cowboys’ job. The Jones family should have a good read on their potential interest in the job since they have the same agent as McCarthy, tweets Albert Breer of SI.com. Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network says that Jones will gauge Riley’s interest, but Riley is unlikely to leave Oklahoma at this point (video link).
  • The Lewis interview caught a lot of people by surprise, but there is one interesting link between the two sides. Jones is very good friends with Bengals owner Mike Brown, tweets Paul Dehner Jr. of The Athletic. Dehner writes that the two men “hold very similar view[s]” on handling their teams. Lewis, of course, was Cincinnati’s coach for 16 seasons and Brown was very reluctant to let him go. It’s possible that Brown recommended Lewis to Jones.
  • Speaking of Lewis, Rapoport says the former Bengals HC would require that the Cowboys — or any club — hire Hue Jackson as his OC (video link). That could be a deal-breaker for the Cowboys given the presence of Kellen Moore.
  • Garrett had told his assistants on expiring deals they were free to start looking for other work. Most assistants were on expiring deals like Garrett, but that notably excluded Moore and offensive line coach Marc Colombo, Breer tweets. The organization thinks very highly of Moore and he generally received positive reviews in his first year calling plays. Since both are still under contract, it’s quite possible the Jones’ will retain them even when they hire a new coach. Breer adds that Garrett hasn’t spoken to any of his staff since Monday.

HC/GM Rumors: Gase, Lynn, Panthers, Shurmur

Black Monday is tomorrow, so let’s take a look at the latest coaching and GM rumors from around the league:

  • This doesn’t come as much of a surprise, given that neither man was really believed to be on the hot seat, but Jets HC Adam Gase and Chargers HC Anthony Lynn will both be back in 2020, per Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (h/t NFL Update on Twitter).
  • We learned yesterday that the Panthers would seek to interview Baylor head coach Matt Rhule, which David Newton of ESPN.com confirmed today. Matt Miller of Bleacher Report believes Rhule would leave Baylor if the right opportunity presented itself, despite signing a lengthy extension with the school back in September (Twitter link).
  • Despite speculation that the Panthers could look to move on from GM Marty Hurney, Jourdan Rodrigue of The Athletic says owner Dave Tepper remains intent on keeping Hurney, and Hurney wants to stay (Twitter link). Tepper does want to bring in an assistant GM, and Joe Person of The Athletic offers a list of potential candidates. The problem, as NFL insider Adam Caplan observes, is that Carolina could be blocked from interviewing candidates under contract with other teams unless the Panthers’ gig comes with decision-making responsibilities (Twitter link).
  • We heard earlier today that the Browns are doing their due diligence on HC candidates, which isn’t a good sign for Freddie Kitchens. As Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com tweets, the team wanted to see modest progress from Kitchens this year, which is why a loss to the Bengals on Sunday afternoon could seal his fate. But for all his faults, Kitchens remains well-liked in the building, so he’s not a goner just yet. We also heard today that Browns GM John Dorsey may be on the hot seat.
  • Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network reiterates yesterday’s report that Ron Rivera is high on the Redskins‘ wish list, and that Rivera could have a new job as soon as tomorrow (video link). However, other clubs also want a crack at Rivera. One of those clubs, the Cowboys, will almost certainly move on from Jason Garrett if they are eliminated from playoff contention today, and Rapoport names Rhule, Lincoln Riley, and Rivera as names to watch for Dallas’ expected vacancy.
  • In the same report, RapSheet says Giants ownership is split on head coach Pat Shurmur, with Steve Tisch wanting to move on and John Mara not quite convinced. A win over the Eagles today could save Shurmur’s job.
  • Dan Graziano of ESPN.com confirms (via Twitter) that former Texans GM Rick Smith is definitely a name to watch if the Redskins move on from Bruce Allen, which they are expected to do. Graziano says it’s still unclear as to whether Smith wants to return to a front office, contrary to a report from last month, but if he is, Redskins owner Dan Snyder will be interested. Mark Maske of the Washington Post hears that Smith, who lost his wife to cancer 11 months ago, is not quite ready to return to football (Twitter link).

East Rumors: Rhule, Meyer, Jets

Despite reports connecting the Cowboys to Lincoln Riley and Urban Meyer, team owner Jerry Jones on Saturday downplayed the notion that he would pursue a college coach this offseason. However, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports says Jones remains interested in Riley, and he is also paying close attention to Baylor head coach Matt Rhule.

Rhule was a hot name on the NFL head coaching circuit last year and reportedly could have had the Jets’ job if he agreed to certain appointments to his coaching staff. He signed an eight-year extension with Baylor in September, but pro teams are still interested in him. Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network shot down recent speculation that the Cowboys would pursue Sean Payton, but he says Dallas made it known through back channels last offseason it was interested in the Saints’ HC, which helped Payton land his extension with New Orleans in September (video link).

Now for more from the league’s east divisions:

  • The Cowboys may not be the only team interested in Meyer. As JP Finlay of NBC Sports Washington tweets, Meyer is at FedEx field for the Redskins‘ contest against the Eagles today, and Washington would love to land Meyer as its next HC. Meyer, of course, served as Dwayne Haskins‘ head coach at Ohio State, but it seems like the Redskins don’t really meet Meyer’s criteria for coming out of retirement.
  • Rich Cimini of ESPN.com expects the Jets to overhaul 50% of their roster this offseason, and he unsurprisingly names Brian Winters and Quincy Enunwa as two of the big-name players who could be cut. He also says that, if New York retains Le’Veon Bell, it should bring in another RB with the speed to run outside the tackles.
  • Though the Patriots just cut kicker Josh Gable two days after adding him to the practice squad, head coach Bill Belichick suggested that Gable could be back in 2020 as possible competition for Stephen Gostkowski, as Mike Reiss of ESPN.com writes.
  • In the same piece linked above, Reiss says Patriots D-line coach Bret Bielema, a former collegiate head coach with Wisconsin and Arkansas, is generating interest from college teams. Bielema is said to be open to such an opportunity if the right one presents itself.
  • The NFL’s decision on the Patriots‘ punishment for Spygate 2.0 is expected shortly.

Latest On Cowboys’ Pending FAs, Jason Garrett

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the Cowboys have made no progress on extensions for pending free agents Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, or Byron Jones, as Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports writes. La Canfora had a similar report towards the end of October, and nothing has changed since then.

Dallas, obviously, is not going to let Prescott get away, and even if the two sides cannot work out a long-term pact prior to the deadline for using the franchise tag, the Cowboys would tag their signal-caller to buy themselves some more time. That would mean that the Cowboys could not tag Cooper, and La Canfora’s sources say the odds of the team retaining Cooper without the tag are slim. Plus, given that we are now close to the end of the season, Cooper is not inclined to forego his shot at the open market by restarting extension negotiations.

La Canfora adds that there has been no communication between the Cowboys and Jones, and no talks are expected before the end of the season. With Jones, like Cooper, poised for a big payday, it seems increasingly likely that the team will lose both players.

With respect to Jason Garrett, we have already heard that the Cowboys will not be firing their head coach before the end of the season, but we also heard that Garrett may need to capture the Lombardi Trophy in order to remain in Dallas beyond 2019, and Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network confirms earlier rumors that the Cowboys will have interest in Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley if they elect to move on from Garrett (video link). Owner Jerry Jones and his family already have a relationship with Riley stemming from Riley’s recruitment of Jones’ grandson, John Stephen Jones, who ultimately elected to play his collegiate ball at Arkansas.

Riley has been a hot name in NFL coaching rumors in the past, and if he elects to jump to the professional ranks, Rapoport suggests the Cowboys could be appealing to him.

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Cowboys Could Consider Coaching Change In 2020

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has insisted that head coach Jason Garrett is not in danger of losing his job this year, but as Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports writes, Garrett’s future in Dallas beyond 2019 is still very much in doubt.

Of course, that isn’t a huge surprise given that Garrett’s contract expires at the end of the current campaign. Jones was perfectly content to let Garrett coach through a lame-duck season and revisit the situation next year, and he is fully expecting a strong playoff run.

Jones apparently views the Cowboys, who have lost two straight after running off three consecutive wins to start the season, as a legitimate championship contender. As such, Garrett may have to win at least one playoff game to land a new contract with the Cowboys.

Garrett has been on the hot seat several times during his Cowboys tenure, but he has still managed to hold onto his post since he was given the permanent HC title in 2011. And, now that Sean Payton has signed an extension with the Saints, one of the biggest threats to his job is off the market.

However, Jones is intrigued by Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley, who has seen his name come up in plenty of NFL coaching rumors before. Riley, though, is reportedly willing to seriously consider opportunities in the professional ranks in 2020, and obviously the Dallas gig is one of the most high-profile jobs around.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.