FRISCO, Texas — It has been about six weeks since Lincoln Riley was named coach for Oklahoma and the whirlwind of stepping into the driver’s seat as the Big 12 Conference preseason favorite has been eye-opening and, he admits, a little bit daunting.
With the timing of former coach Bob Stoops’ retirement, the transition has been less stressful for Riley, who addressed the media Monday. It marked the first of two 2017 Big 12 Football Media Days at Ford Center at The Star.
“It’s such a unique situation,” Riley said. “Normally, when there’s a change in the head coaching position, so much else has changed as well as far as bringing in a new staff a lot of times, getting to know players, starting to develop those relationships.
“What made this so unique, I think, was the continuity that was kept with the decision. It’s made it definitely a lot easier on me when I think about all I’ve done in the last month.”
It certainly helps that the 33-year-old Riley, who was the Sooners’ offensive coordinator, inherits a team that has won the past two Big 12 championships.
“We have a very, very strong team coming back with some new exciting young players to infuse our team with,” Riley said. “Obviously, it’s a very, very demanding schedule that you get every year in the Big 12, and another demanding nonconference schedule.”
Oklahoma is led by a returning quarterback, senior Baker Mayfield, who set NCAA records a year ago and will work behind eight offensive linemen with starting experience.
“Baker has gotten more comfortable as a quarterback within our system and more comfortable as a quarterback with our current players,” Riley said. “Obviously having great quarterback play in big-time games is always such a huge part of it. We’re thrilled about his progress — I think he really took some strides this spring.”
Mayfield admits the aftermath of his February public intoxication arrest and the viral video of Fayetteville, Ark., police officers tackling him while trying to escape has humbled him and been the impetus for some lifestyle changes. Mayfield has refocused on being a role model and on doing the right things.
Oklahoma’s team leaders and captains have formed a kangaroo court of sorts to help players toe the line.
“Accountability has been a huge thing we’ve been pushing,” Mayfield said. “If you’re not going to do it right off the field, who is to say we trust you on the field? The leaders had to set the tone, so we got together and set some standards, so there’s been punishment that we’ve had to deal out for guys who have made mistakes.”
Only one program in the Big 12 era — the Sooners in 2006-08 — has won three consecutive conference titles. Expectations are high for Oklahoma, which travels to Ohio State in Week 2 before heading into a league campaign that features five other teams that could be ranked in the top 25.
“The expectations are there to win, like they always are at Oklahoma, but that’s something that I enjoy and something that our staff enjoys, and our players,” Riley said. “You come to play and coach at Oklahoma to win and to win big. It’s always been like that. If you don’t enjoy that sense of pressure and those expectations, then it’s probably not the place for you.”