Lincoln Riley is eager to bring USC Trojan horses back to winning ways

LOS ANGELES (AP) – Standing on the top edge of the venerable Colosseum on a 76-degree fall Monday, Lincoln Riley …

LOS ANGELES (AP) – Standing on the top edge of the venerable Colosseum on a 76-degree fall Monday, Lincoln Riley glanced behind him at the Los Angeles panorama that stretches from the Pacific Ocean to the Hollywood sign to the gleaming skyscrapers of downtown.

“Wow. Is this real?” asked Riley. “Incredible.”

Southern California seemed to be asking itself the same rhetorical questions after a surprising 36-hour courtship ended with Riley in charge of restoring Trojan horses to a place at the top of the college football world.

Riley arrived in sunny Los Angeles a day after agreeing to leave Oklahoma after five successful seasons in charge. He spoke to his new players on campus before receiving his official welcome at the Colosseum in what he called “a surreal moment.”

“It was hard to leave the place I was,” Riley said. “At the same time, I knew this was the right thing to do.”

The respected 38-year-old coach, who went 55-10 and won four Big 12 titles with the Sooners, said he did not hesitate when he was forced to make a quick decision to join the Trojans, who expressed their burning interest in him shortly after he returned home Sunday morning from Oklahoma’s narrow defeat to Oklahoma State.

“I call plays in much less than a day, and those are life-changing decisions, too,” Riley said. “This one felt like I had an eternity.”

Riley said he never talked to any other school about its opening, and he insists he loved Norman. But the opportunity of this new challenge on the west coast was too fascinating to resist.

“My intentions were certainly not to leave Oklahoma,” Riley said. “They were not. Just the more I learned about this, the more my enthusiasm was built. It just felt like the right place at the right time for the next chapter in my life, my family’s life. Is there a little bit of shock? “Even now? Yes, I think there is. But the excitement outweighs it.”

Riley declined to say whether he thought he had a better chance of winning a national championship at USC than at Oklahoma, which is heading to the SEC within a few years.

“I do not want to compare,” Riley said. “I think we had our chances and we were damn close to that, and if we do what we have to here, we will have chances here.”

A long-proud football school bound for a decade plus of disappointment and embarrassment, it celebrated the arrival of Riley, who was attracted to the history, alumni base, facilities and recruitment opportunities of her new Southern California school.

He also instantly shone for the venerable Colosseum, which was filled with fans during Pete Carroll’s tenure before the declining success of the last 12 years.

“This place is getting crowded,” Riley said. “This is going to be the mecca of college football.”

Athletics director Mike Bohn profusely praised his new appointment, calling Riley “our top candidate and one of the best coaches in all of football.”

“It says the USC is the leading destination for the best and smartest,” Bohn added. “It sends a loud and powerful message to the college football world that this sleeping giant is wide awake, getting up and fighting on.”

USC (4-7, 3-5 Pac-12) ends its second losing season in four years in California on Saturday night, and Riley plans to spend this week “working in the shadows” to avoid becoming a distraction for the temporary coaches Donte Williams’ team. A loss would leave the Trojans with their first season with eight losses since 1991, but their roster is still packed with elite talent – and Riley knows a few things about both recruiting top players and improving veterans.

Riley declined to give any promises as to when Trojan horses will be the title challenger in Pac-12 or the country, but left little doubt about his expectations.

“In this day and age, I think it can happen fast,” Riley said. “A lot of good things are happening in this program right now that we can build on. You can implement shift schedules in many ways, and we want to be very creative and aware of that. “

Riley confirmed that Oklahoma assistants Alex Grinch (defensive coordinator) and Dennis Simmons (receivers) will join him at USC along with operations director Clarke Stroud and strength coach Bennie Wylie.

Although he expressed admiration for the work of USC’s current staff in difficult circumstances, he did not commit to retaining any current coaches, including Williams, who is known as one of the West Coast’s best recruiters.

“We obviously want a lot of good candidates who will come and train with us here,” Riley said. “There are several really good ones right here, so I want to visit them with those guys.”

Riley also said he was aware of the betrayal that people in the Oklahoma program felt at his abrupt move.

“People want to say what they say, and I understand that,” Riley said. “I hope they appreciate all the good memories we had there and what an incredible race we had. When I think back on my time there, I will remember all the amazing things we did there.”

After Riley made his opening remarks and the USC band gave him the serenade again, he rose again with Bohn, school president Carol Folt, and Rick Caruso, billionaire chairman of the USC board.

While cameras clicked and journalists jockeyed for position around them while holding up a shirt, Riley said, “So that’s what LA feels like.”

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