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Lincoln Riley leaves Oklahoma Sooners to become USC's head coach

Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Okla.
Curtis Simmons
Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Okla.

Lincoln Riley is out as OU's head football coach.

Thanksgiving weekend was not kind to Sooner fans. For the Cowboys, Saturday night was glorious. After beating OU 37-33, OSU is off to the Big 12 Championship Game and remains alive for the College Football Playoff and a chance at the national title.

Less than 24 hours after seeing their hopes for the same dashed, OU lost Lincoln Riley. He’s headed to the University of Southern California. Riley replaces Clay Helton, who was fired in September after going 46-24 in seven seasons in Los Angeles.

To say the Sooner fan base and the athletic department are shocked is an understatement. Though rumors of Riley’s departure were rampant in recent weeks, few considered them to be serious.

Riley has been the OU coach for five seasons. He went 55-10 during his tenure, leading the Sooners to four straight Big 12 championships and three playoff appearances.

Now, OU begins its search for a head coach to take over one of the most storied programs in college football. Until that happens, former OU coach Bob Stoops will step in to lead the Sooners in their yet-to-be-determined bowl game.

OU released statements from Riley, athletic director Joe Castiglione, and Stoops.

OU head coach Lincoln Riley:

"My time at OU has included some of the most special years of my life and my family’s lives. I had so many great memories and made so many great friends that we’ll take with us forever. A lot of things that we were a part of here, I’m incredibly proud of — the success on the field, the success off the field, the players. Proud of the staff. Proud of the way we worked so well with the university and our administration. We’ve been able to have two phenomenal leaders in President Harroz and Joe Castiglione, and they have been everything I could ever ask for in this role and more."

"Leaving OU was probably the most difficult decision of my life. 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."

"We’ll leave here with fond memories. It’ll be very difficult to say goodbye to Norman, but it will always be a part of our family, our history. I’ll be a Sooner fan as long as I live — a fan of this state, of this university and the people here. I love them all very much."

OU Vice President and Director of Athletics Joe Castiglione:

"I’d like to thank Coach Riley for all he has done to help our football program since he arrived in Norman in 2015. The leadership and ingenuity he displayed during his two years as offensive coordinator made our decision to promote him to head coach when Bob Stoops retired a no-brainer, and he certainly lived up to expectations in his five years as head coach."

"Oklahoma is one of the premier football programs and jobs in the country. Our storied history, annual pursuit of conference and national championships, tremendous fan support, beautiful facilities and quality of life combine to make this an incredible place to recruit to and coach, and we have begun the search for our next great leader."

"Coach Stoops, who will be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame next week, will serve as our interim head coach. He is looking forward to the opportunity and we certainly appreciate all he has done and continues to do for our athletics department and football program. Our team and players are in great hands under his leadership."

"When we met with the team today, I communicated to our players that our program is about them. It will always be bigger than any one person. And just as it’s always been, Oklahoma football is positioned for greatness."

OU interium head coach Bob Stoops:

"First and foremost, I’m a program guy and whatever I can do to help OU and to support the players, of course I’m glad to do it. I’ll do everything I can to help them finish the season in a strong and successful way and I look forward to that."

"Lincoln did a great job in his five years as head coach here and I appreciate all he did for this program. I’ll always appreciate the close friendship we’ve had and will continue to have. I wish the best for him, Caitlin and their family."

Logan Layden is a reporter and managing editor for StateImpact Oklahoma.
Nyk Daniels is KGOU’s Morning Edition host.
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