Lincoln Riley did not "run from the SEC"...he took a tougher job at USC

We're still hounded by the idiotic rumor that Lincoln Riley "ran from the SEC" more than two years after he jettisoned Oklahoma. As such, the truth continues to evade college football fans.
Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic - Tulane v USC
Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic - Tulane v USC / Ron Jenkins/GettyImages

Lincoln Riley put Oklahoma football fans in the fetal position after news broke that the head coach was departing for USC in November 2021. Sooners fans' shock quickly turned to rage as they failed to comprehend that a better head coaching job existed outside of Norman. The rage has progressively transformed into a long-term obsession. It's as if Riley cannot go to bed at night without worrying that a crimson and cream-clad loon is watching him through his window.

The narrative spewing from the Oklahoma drilling fields remains Riley left for USC because he was "afraid of the SEC." Of course, Oklahoma planned to leave the Big 12 for the SEC in the months before the head coach's exit. However, any suggestion that Riley ran or hid from leading an SEC football program is absurd. Still, the Sooners and their new southeast football brethren continue pounding the illogical drum.

Joe Castiglione recently doubled down on the idea that Riley ran off. I'm sure the Oklahoma AD's remarks were merely pandering to the pro-SEC crowd in a moment of lapsed judgment, but he kicked an ant pile in the process. Few Sooners fans will recall Castiglione stated Riley was "on board" with joining the SEC, in an interview after Riley's departure.

Why would Riley or any head coach fear the SEC?

The "Lincoln Riley fears the SEC" rumor was manufactured to accomplish two things. For one, Oklahoma fans who denied Riley would ever dare leave their program found a convenient excuse. In their minds, the Muleshoe (TX) native was suddenly doing their football program a favor. But the more significant objective behind the ridiculous rumor is that it caters to the inflated egos of the SEC and its fans.

The SEC and its fans believe they are the premier spot in college football. Indeed, the SEC can claim most of the College Football Playoff championship wins during the era. However, most of the CFP trophies reeking of the SEC are the work of Nick Saban. Aside from a flash-in-the-pan LSU season, only Saban and his protege Kirby Smart have dominated the competition since the tournament's inception.

Saban is now retired, but Kalen DeBoer has successfully taken the baton, and Alabama doesn't appear vulnerable. As such, the SEC remains a two-pony show in which the Dawgs and the Crimson Tide are the prime attractions. Why would any big-time head coach like Lincoln Riley fear that?

Riley doesn't owe Oklahoma or its fans anything.

The biggest whiners flooding the Reign of Troy Facebook page over the last 48 hours remain united on the delusion that Riley had a good thing going in Oklahoma. Bob Stoops "handed him the keys to an empire!" Why would anyone dare leave that situation!?

Indeed, Stoops did right by the Sooners when he hand-selected Riley as his offensive coordinator, knowing Riley was the best coach to develop Baker Mayfield. Stoops then did right by Riley in naming him his successor and retiring shortly after that. However, Tequila Bob has repeatedly stated that he felt he stayed at Oklahoma too long.

Such begs the question, did Stoops do Riley a favor, or did Riley do Stoops a favor?

Either way, Riley wasn't obligated to remain in charge of the Sooners for a lifetime because of a head coach succession plan. It's also worth mentioning that Stoops never left. Oklahoma gave the old ball coach an office, and Stoops hovered around Riley's program like a senior advisor.

Lincoln Riley opted for a more difficult job at USC.

Digging into the living conditions in Norman versus Los Angeles isn't worth the time because every Oklahoma fan claims to know people leaving California for various reasons. Few USC fans buy such nonsense.

Nevertheless, Riley set off for Southern California because it offered better money, a more scenic location, and the opportunity to build his program. Sooners fans won't admit this, but anything Riley accomplished in Norman would always be credited to Stoops in some way, shape, or form.

What Riley does with the Trojans is solely Riley's work because, as USC fans know, Clay Helton left the program in a gutter. Few fans outside Los Angeles also acknowledge that the 40-year-old head coach ran toward a bigger challenge in rebuilding Troy. He could have easily remained put in Oklahoma with Caleb Williams, brought in the No. 1 recruiting class (at the time), and continued to control the Big 12.

Instead, Riley opted for the bigger challenge in Southern California. Now, Riley will lead the Trojans into their most arduous situation, an inaugural season in the Big Ten Conference and one of the most difficult schedules in 2024. Such is not bad for a coach who allegedly runs from adversity.