After beginning his head coaching career with the Oklahoma Sooners in 1999, Bob Stoops stepped down yesterday as the longest tenured head coach in the FBS. Oklahoma has decided to promote Lincoln Riley from offensive coordinator to head coach, a move that could appease recruits hesitant about committing their futures to a program in flux.
The Sooners currently have the nation’s 18th best recruiting class for 2018, according to 247 Sports, with four of the top 10 of their home state’s recruits already committed to the Sooners. Stoops’ departure, though, means recruits will likely be hearing from Riley over the next few days, as the new coaching staff looks to assuage any worries.
Although a few commits have remained mum over the recent development, with some specifically asking for no interviews, a number have taken to Twitter to endorse Riley’s hiring.
For example, some outlets originally reported that Tanner Mordecai, an ESPN 300 recruit who many consider one of the best quarterbacks in Texas, could potentially pull back on his commitment, but Mordecai ended speculation surrounding his status after he retweeted a statement announcing Riley’s hiring and told 247sports.com that he found coaching change to be “all the better.”
Likewise, Brey Walker, the 6’7″ offensive tackle and top recruit in the Sooners’ recruiting class of 2018, reaffirmed his commitment to OU, tweeting a photo of himself in an Oklahoma uniform alongside the text “home a place where love is contentment and understanding #BoomerSooner.”
The continued commitment of both Walker and Mordecai will come as welcome news to Sooners’ fans, many of whom were taken aback by the exit of Stoops. Other recruits, on the other hand, have taken to social media to acknowledge their surprise.
Running back TJ Pledger replied to the news on Twitter with just a single question mark, a move that rival programs will likely take as an indication that his recruitment is back open.
ESPN currently has Pledger, the 5’9″ running back from the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, listed as the fifth best running back prospect in next year’s class. His high profile ranking helped Pledger receive offers from all of the top programs in the nation, including Ohio State, Clemson, and Notre Dame, as well as from Big 12 rivals West Virginia and Texas.
Despite the potentially stiff competition from other programs, Riley was an important player in Pledger’s recruitment process, which may help to prevent Pledger from withdrawing his commitment.
Even if Pledger does pull back on his verbal pledge to OU, the Sooners will enter the next few years loaded at running back, as both the 2017 and 2016 recruiting classes featured four star running back prospects in Trey Sermon and Abdul Adams respectively.
With regards to the state of the program as a whole, Riley likely could not have picked a better time or place to start his head coaching career. He will inherit a recruiting powerhouse that has finished with top 20 recruiting classes for more than a decade straight, and he will take control of a team that won the Big 12 Championship in 2015 and 2016.
The strength of the OU program means Riley will not have to a right a faltering program but rather continue and build upon the program’s recent success. He said as much in an interview with ESPN after the announcement of his promotion.
“Offensively and defensively, schemes and people that recruits have built relationships with over the past couple years are not changing,” Riley said in his discussion with ESPN‘s Mitch Sherman. “The championship pedigree that is here — the proven, sustained success over a number of years — is a result of a lot of people. That’s going to continue. That’s not going anywhere.”
[Featured Image by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images]