Lincoln Riley is a Perfect Fit for USC and That’s Their Problem

David Marsh Editorials

It has been absolutely delightful as Duck fans to watch USC’s problems, not only this year but over more than a decade at this point. For the record, Oregon fans are not jealous of what USC has or had, because we are on our own journey. We simply take great pleasure in watching USC’s downfall and struggles. And perhaps our greatest joy has come from USC’s nonexistent defense from their now former defensive coordinator Alex Grinch.

He may be gone, but USC’s defense isn’t that much better; the stops they got against Oregon on Saturday were not so much a result of an improved defense as they were of penalties and miscommunication on Oregon’s part.

The University of Spoiled Children deserves Lincoln Riley, and he is a perfect fit for their program. USC loves to talk about their glory days, and they have had some really good football teams in the past (there is no denying that), but today’s recruits don’t harbor the same nostalgia for USC’s glory days as the fans do, and we are also at the point in time where prospective recruits weren’t even born the last time USC won a National Championship.

USC fans want nothing more than to return to those days as quickly as possible and Riley seemed to offer them just that, especially when he brought Caleb Williams, coaches and other talented players with him from Oklahoma. What Riley also brought with him from Oklahoma wasn’t just star power, but his Big 12 coaching philosophy.

In short, it’s lots of offense while the defense needs to be slightly better than the other team’s just to ensure they win the shootout. Defense isn’t a hallmark of the current Big 12 conference. It isn’t a shocker that Riley continues to play Big 12 football in the Pac-12 and sometimes makes it work. USC still has a winning record at 7-4, but that isn’t going to achieve any of his or his fan base’s dreams.

But USC and the fan base have a pretty good track record now in what they actually want out of a head coaching hire. They want flash and, ideally, someone with ties to USC football. Oddly enough, the best coach USC has managed to hire since 2000 was Pete Carroll, who was neither of those things — and actually USC was pursuing Oregon State’s head coach Dennis Erickson and Oregon’s Mike Bellotti. However, Carroll proved to be the right hire for the Trojans. But let’s be clear: he was by no means their first choice.

Evan Williams comes in to sack Caleb Williams.
(Photo by Craig Strobeck)

However, if you look at USC’s hires since then, what you find is Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian, who were both fired mid-season once the the program’s goals were deemed as out of reach. Then came Clay Helton, who was actually an interim head coach after both Kiffin and Sarkisian left the program. He was a USC man through and through, and became the default hire for the team.

Helton was the high water mark for the Trojans since the Carroll era, as he led the Trojans to a Pac-12 Championship in 2016 and a Rose Bowl victory, then the following year he led the Trojans to a Cotton Bowl appearance — though they did not win that game. But in the end, Helton couldn’t restore USC dominance and was fired.

So when it came to hiring a new head coach after Helton, USC hired one of the biggest names they could in Riley. He was a well-known name in College Football and he led Oklahoma to the playoff on three occasions, though he never won a playoff game. Riley also has the record of coaching two Heisman-winning QBs while at Oklahoma, and now three with Williams last year at USC.

Riley was an instant success with the media and the USC fan base. They basically turned around and ordained that USC was “back” and for the past two seasons, USC has been tabbed in the preseason polls and rankings as the best team in the Pac-12.

Meanwhile, Oregon hired a first-time head coach in Dan Lanning, who Oregon fans all quickly went off to research who this no-name was — and in truth a good portion of the Oregon fan base was disappointed we didn’t hire a name as big as Riley. Once we found out who Lanning was, that all changed and we started to love the hire.

Dan Lanning is beloved by Duck fans, but he probably wouldn’t have been granted an interview by USC.
(Photo by Craig Strobeck)

Lanning would never have been hired at USC; he wasn’t a big enough name for the program to even consider. It would have been a miracle if they ever interviewed him for the job. He lacks the flash and star power needed to walk in the door for that job. Never mind the fact that Carroll was the most successful coach at USC in the last 20 years and the staff didn’t want him then; nothing has really changed with the Trojans. They want flash and big names.

So they got Riley, who is an incredible offensive mind — but he is far from a complete coach. He will keep whoever the quarterback is at USC in the Heisman race, and next season USC is going to be a trendy pick to win the B1G in their first year. USC fans got exactly what they wanted, and they deserve a coach who will fulfill all their offensive dreams but probably never take them to the promised land.

As for us non-USC fans, we will continue to watch you all writhe in agony in the torment of your own making. Enjoy the rest of your season, USC fans — you’ve still qualified for a bowl game.

David Marsh
Portland, Oregon
Top Photo By Craig Strobeck

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