Q&A: Muleshoe High grad Riley ready to tackle new job at Oklahoma

Lincoln Riley was recently hired to re-energize Oklahoma’s offense.

History is on the side of Muleshoe’s favorite football son.

In his five years at East Carolina, Riley’s up-tempo spread attack set more than 50 team and individual school records. The school’s top five passing seasons came under Riley’s watch.

Riley’s rise from star quarterback at Muleshoe (he led the Mules to the state semifinals in 2000) to offensive coordinator at age 31 at one of the premier college football programs has been meteoric.

He has passing game guru Mike Leach to thank for jump-starting his coaching career.

After one season, Leach convinced Riley he had a much brighter future as a coach than a player — Riley turned down scholarship offers from smaller schools and walked on at Texas Tech to become Leach’s right-hand man.

Leach promoted him to wide receivers coach at age 23. He was up to the task. Michael Crabtree won back-to-back Biletnikoff awards as college football’s top receiver under Riley’s tutelage.

When Texas Tech cleaned house after Leach was fired late in 2009, he landed at East Carolina as offensive coordinator. At age 26, he was the youngest coordinator on either side of the ball.

Here are his answers to a few questions thrown his way.

Question: OK. Let’s get it out of the way. What were your thoughts on the Oklahoma Sooners growing up?
Riley: I’ve just always really admired the program. OU has always been a Top 5 program in the country. I grew up close enough to it to understand how special it really is.

Q: Did Ronnie Jones (former Muleshoe junior high assistant principal) try to recruit you to his beloved alma mater?
Riley: Every day! He was very passionate about the program, just as most Sooners are. That’s a big part of what makes OU special. I know he’s up there enjoying all of this. (Jones died in February 2014).

Q: How often do you get asked about being from Muleshoe during interviews?
Riley: It’s definitely happened a few times and it’s great to see our home in the news. I couldn’t have picked a better place to be raised.

Q: Would you reflect on your journey from Muleshoe to landing a coordinator’s job at one of the premier college football programs in the country?
Riley: Honestly it’s hard to believe. I have always had a deep passion for this game, and so many of my best memories involve football in some form. I’ve had great teammates and coaches along the way, which have made it all possible. I have two great parents that have supported me in every possible way. It’s just been a great ride.

Q: Buzz is you’ve been offered other quality jobs. Why Oklahoma and why now?
Riley: It was the right time, the right place and the right man to work for. This profession, like most, is all about timing. I couldn’t have scripted a better situation for Caitlin and I.

Q: Most articles link you to Mike Leach and “Air Raid offense,” and rightfully so. According to published reports, Leach never had a 1,000 yard rusher while you’ve had one almost every year at ECU. How does your version of the “Air Raid” offense differ from the one you learned under Leach?
Riley: Everyone that has branched off from Texas Tech has added their own “flavor” to the offense. We are no different. We are going to adjust our system to fit our personnel, whatever it takes to win games. We have a great staff here at OU and it will certainly be a group effort.

Q: You missed out on the spread offense that Muleshoe is now known for. Ever wonder what might have been had you had a chance to chuck it around?
Riley: Maybe I would have made it a little harder for my brother (Garrett Riley) and the recent quarterbacks to break all of my records!

Q: Besides family, who is the first person you called when you got the OU job?
Riley: I didn’t really tell anyone. I really needed some time to process it all. Plus, most people already knew due to the social media world. There were quite a few texts and phone calls.

Q: East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeil believed in you enough he made you the youngest offensive coordinator in D-I football at the time. It must have been hard to leave?
Riley: It was hard. Ruffin is very special to me. But this was an offer that couldn’t be passed up.

Q: You’ve unearthed quite a few players while at ECU. Now you’ll pretty much be working with the most gifted players in the country. Does your coaching style or offense change any?
Riley: Zero. We are going to push these guys and expect a great deal out of them. I can’t wait to get started.

Q: What is it that Bob Stoops wants you to bring to his program?
Riley: He wants a style of offense that attacks, that is versatile and that can put points on the board.

— Compiled by Rick White, correspondent