One year ago today is not a day Oklahoma football fans will now, or likely forever, look back upon with anything resembling good feelings. That’s putting it mildly.
November 28, 2021, is the infamous day that Lincoln Riley decided the head coach’s job at Oklahoma wasn’t good enough for him.
In truth, the former OU coach — who Sooner fans now unaffectionately refer to as simply “Muleshoe,” in reference to the small Texas town he is from — may have come to the decision to leave a number of days or even weeks before, but he didn’t officially announce it to OU officials or the world until this day one unceremonious year ago.
USC was a blue-chip program that was headed nowhere fast. The days of the Trojans’ football dynasty had long passed — although Oklahoma football fans will not soon forget the shellacking No. 1 USC sadly handed to the No. 2-ranked Sooners in the 2005 BCS Championship game — and USC had been without a head coach since firing Clay Helton in October.
Riley was in USC athletic director Mike Bohn’s coaching-search crosshairs since dismissing Helton, and many believe even before that. Bohn wasn’t sure he could get someone like Riley to leave a nationally relevant program like Oklahoma, but over the course of a three-month search that aim never wavered.
In the early morning hours on Sunday, less than 12 hours after the Sooners regular season-ending loss to Oklahoma State, a call from Bohn finally persuaded Riley to part ways with Norman, Oklahoma, for the warm sunshine of Southern California.
As if missing out on the Big 12 Championship game for the first time in six straight seasons wasn’t bad enough to take, the bombshell announcement of Riley leaving set off a thunderstorm of anger and anguish throughout the Sooner Nation and a scramble by the Oklahoma administration to seek the right replacement.
Head coaches at elite programs like Oklahoma just don’t get up and leave of their own accord. Needless to say, Riley’s decision to exit did not sit well with the Sooner fan base. That same day, a sign with the words “Traitor” appeared on the ground sign outside of Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Social media lit up with posts calling Riley a “coward” for leaving Oklahoma ahead of the move to the SEC and even going as far as to compare him to Satan.
An Oklahoma state legislator sponsored a bill that would designate a few inches of state highway leaving Oklahoma as the “Lincoln Riley Highway.
Riley leaving was one thing, but he also took several Sooner assistant coaches with him — not that that was necessarily a bad thing in retrospect. In the weeks to follow the situation festered some more when a number of Sooner players elected to leave the program, including QB Caleb
Williams and WR Mario Williams, both of whom decided to follow their head coach to USC. Several highly touted Oklahoma recruiting commitments for 2024 also flipped to USC following the Riley announcement.
This season, with the Sooners finishing 6-6 — an unacceptable result by Oklahoma football standards — has only made matters worse. And now to see Riley and USC sitting with an 11-1 overall record and in excellent position to make the College Football Playoff and leading Heisman candidate Williams directing the high-powered Trojan offense, it’s like pouring gasoline on a fire that is the anger OU fans have toward Riley since that fateful day one year ago.
While Williams and USC were taking down rival Notre Dame this past weekend for USC’s 11th win of 2022, earlier that day another highly recruited former Sooner QB, Spencer Rattler, who was benched by Riley in favor of Williams last season, had a huge day in leading South Carolina to an upset win over No. 8 Clemson in another rivalry game.
Sadly, the only thing that is going to make all this hurt and resentment toward “Muleshoe” go away is for Oklahoma to return to the 10- and 11-win seasons and championship level football it was known for in the years prior to all of this.
It’s amazing how a winning program like the days of old can keep fans looking forward and not so much concerned with the trials and tribulations of the past.