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Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Four potential replacements if Lincoln Riley falters at Oklahoma

Chip Kelly 49ers

The news of Bob Stoops’s retirement as Oklahoma football coach took everyone by surprise — and also kickstarted the rumor mill into high gear. Was 33-year-old assistant Lincoln Riley really the man the school trusted to lead one of the nation’s most prestigious football programs into the future? For now, the answer is yes, with Riley being given the job without any qualifiers or interim tags attached.

Is Riley really the long-term answer, or will Oklahoma keep one eye on the coaching carousel in the event he underwhelms? Here are a list of possible names who could wind up with the job in the next couple years if Riley falters.

1) Chip Kelly

If Riley fails to impress in his first season or two, all eyes will fall on Kelly, who has only recently joined ESPN as an analyst. Pretty much everyone agrees that his stop in Bristol is temporary.

Whatever you make of Kelly’s NFL career, his collegiate resume speaks for itself: 46-7, three top-ten finishes, and one of the most innovative and electrifying offenses at the college level in recent memory. It’s an open question whether he’d be able to recapture that magic at a different school, but pretty much any major program with a vacancy would be willing to find out, as his established record of success bests everyone else’s.

The only question would be whether Kelly would be willing to finally let go of his NFL ambitions and settle for another college job. After getting passed over for every position he interviewed for this past offseason, the answer might be yes, and he’d struggle to find a superior college opening than Oklahoma’s.

2) Les Miles

Every list that Kelly appears on will probably be followed by Miles — and unlike Kelly, Miles has won a national championship. What’s possibly even more appealing with Miles is the fact that he’s familiar with the state, albeit through a Sooner rival; Miles coached at Oklahoma State from 2001 to 2004, and whether that would work for him or against him isn’t exactly clear.

Miles’s last seasons at LSU weren’t exactly dominant, as Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide muscled him out of being top dog in the SEC West. Miles has only failed to lead his team to a bowl game once, and that was in 2001, his very first season with Oklahoma State, so he brings a record of consistent success.

Can he still be a championship coach? That is what Oklahoma would demand.

3) P.J. Fleck

Yes, Fleck just got a new job. Minnesota is undoubtedly a step up from Western Michigan, but it’s also not the pinnacle of the college coaching ladder. Oklahoma would be another step up for the man who just took Western Michigan to a 13-1 season.

Fleck has a lot of work to do if the job comes open, though. A good start with Minnesota would be imperative, and Fleck has always worked in the midwest and northeast, which would make him a newcomer to the ultra-competitive recruiting battles that take place in the Big 12. Even if Riley doesn’t prove to be the answer, Fleck is probably a longshot — but he’s regarded as one of the sport’s better up-and-coming coaches, so don’t dismiss him.

4) Bo Pelini

This is an even longer shot. Pelini has two major things working in his favor: He has coached in the Big 12 with Nebraska, and he has ties to Oklahoma, having worked under Stoops as a co-defensive coordinator in 2004.

On one hand, Pelini, now with Youngstown State, never won fewer than nine games in his seven seasons with the Cornhuskers, guaranteeing consistency. On the other hand, he never won more than ten, and was often dogged by criticisms of his inability to win the bigger games. Those are some of the same criticisms, fittingly enough, that have plagued Stoops through his time at Oklahoma, and Pelini brings added off-field baggage.

As much as Pelini would probably love a return to the FBS, he’ll probably have to aim lower.

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