Lincoln Riley's decision to leave his job at Oklahoma to become the head football coach at USC led several star prospects to decommit from Oklahoma. File Photo by David Tulis/UPI | License Photo
Nov. 29 (UPI) -- Football coach Lincoln Riley left his job at Oklahoma to become the newest coach at the University of Southern California, the schools announced.
Oklahoma and USC announced the move Sunday night. Riley, 38, spent five seasons as head coach of the Sooners. Former Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops will replace Riley on an interim basis until the Sooners find a permanent coach.
"Leaving OU was probably the most difficult decision of my life," Riley said in a news release. "OU is one of the best college football programs in the country, and it has been forever. That's not going to change. It's not going to change in the SEC, it's not going to change with another head coach.
"It's stood the test of time and it's going to continue to do so. 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."
USC fired coach Clay Helton in September. Helton posted a 46-24 record in parts of nine seasons with the program. He led the Trojans to a 1-1 start in 2021.
"Lincoln is the rarest combination of extraordinary person and elite football coach," USC athletic director Mike Bohn said in a news release. "His successes and offensive accolades as a head coach the past five years are astonishing.
"Lincoln will recruit relentlessly, develop his players on and off the field, and implement a strong culture in which the program will operate with the highest level of integrity and professionalism.
"Lincoln is universally considered one of the brightest and most talented football coaches in the nation, and the fact that he chose USC is a testament to the strength of our brand, the power of the Trojan Family, and the leadership of our university."
Five-star high school quarterback prospect Malachi Nelson, who committed to Oklahoma in July, was one of several players to announce their decommitments Sunday night. The Los Alamitos High School (Los Alamitos, Calif.,) prospect said on social media that he made the decision "in light of the recent events and changes."
Linebacker Kobie McKinzie, receiver Brandon Inniss and running back Treyaun Webb were the other top prospects to announce their decommitments from Oklahoma in response to Riley's exit.
Riley served as an assistant and wide receivers coach at Texas Tech from 2003 through 2009. He held roles as offensive coordinator, quarterbacks coach and associate head coach at East Carolina from 2010 through 2014.
Oklahoma hired Riley as an offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in 2015. He was named Sooners coach after the 2016 season, replacing Stoops.
Riley won four Big 12 titles with the Sooners. He was the 2018 Big 12 Coach of the Year. Riley's Sooners went 55-10 in the regular season and 1-3 in the postseason. They were 0-3 in College Football Playoff appearances.
Former Trojans associate head coach Donte Williams, who was named the team's interim coach in September, will keep that role for the rest of the 2021 campaign. He'll coach the Trojans in their season finale against California (4-7) at 11 p.m. EST Saturday in Berkeley, Calif.
The Trojans (4-7) are on a three-game losing streak.
Oklahoma State (11-1) beat Oklahoma 37-33 in their regular-season finale Saturday in Stillwater, Okla. Stoops will coach the Sooners (10-2) in their postseason bowl game.
"I'll do everything I can to help them finish the season in a strong and successful way and I certainly look forward to that," Stoops said. "Lincoln did a great job in his five years as head coach here and I appreciate all he did for this program."