To make a dramatic understatement: it was an eventful weekend for Lincoln Riley. Oklahoma won its fourth straight Big 12 championship on Saturday, and on Sunday secured its third College Football Playoff berth in Riley’s four years in the program.
With an Orange Bowl showdown looming on the horizon, Riley can now turn his attention toward closing out Oklahoma’s ninth-ranked recruiting class and securing a new defensive coordinator.
About that Orange Bowl matchup.
Coincidentally, Oklahoma is set to meet Alabama, who happens to employ Pete Golding as its co-defensive coordinator/inside linebackers coach. Golding was Riley’s reported top choice almost from the moment Mike Stoops’ firing became official in mid-October, but sources told FootballScoop a Golding hire appears off for now.
Sources told FootballScoop that Ole Miss head coach Matt Luke also approached Golding about running the Rebels’ defense, but Golding also rebuffed those overtures.
Remaining in the good graces of Lord Saban is a smart career move for obvious reasons in both the long and short terms, and sources told FootballScoop that Saban plans to make moves necessary to keep Golding in Tuscaloosa.
Another name sources tell FootballScoop has been connected to the Oklahoma defensive coordinator opening is Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Alex Grinch. However, now that Urban Meyer has officially announced his impending retirement, one has to wonder if Greg Schiano will find employment elsewhere and Day will hand the defense over to Grinch.
Grinch and his wife are both Ohio natives, and the 37-year-old left his post as Washington State’s defensive coordinator with the understanding he’d been next in line to run Ohio State’s defense if and when Schiano left Columbus. Considering Schiano is in his third year at Ohio State, the feeling is that his time in scarlet and gray has run its course.
So, the natural question is where the search turns in the event Golding and Grinch aren’t available.
Sources in the coaching profession did not provide a clear consensus.
The OU defensive coordinator job is arguably the most fascinating in college football at the moment given the double-edge-sword nature of coaching defense in the Big 12. On the one hand, it’s understandable for a top-flight defensive coordinator candidate to be wary of coaching in a conference where 40 points and 500 yards are considered the norm and at a program where the offense is so efficient that it can work to the detriment of the defense. (For example, OU has defended 966 plays through 13 games; only three teams have defended more). On the other hand, the Sooners’ defensive roster does not lack for young talent, and the bar is so low that rankings in the 50s would be considered résumé-worthy material.
Additionally, Oklahoma will have the ability to pay extremely well for the right candidate. The Sooners spent just $4.8 million for their head coach and offensive coordinator roles this year, which is well below market value. Even if Riley gets another raise this off-season, the funds should be there for the right candidate.
Riley won the Big 12 and reached the Playoff with a defense ranked 102nd in yards per play. What could he do with a defense ranked, say, 45th?
That’s the question OU officials should be asking as Riley searches for his defensive coordinator. Oklahoma has been hesitant to pay SEC money for coordinators in the past, but this may be the right time to go all-in to support its generational talent of an offensive play-caller.
Riley is going to hire a great defensive coordinator. Will it be Golding, Grinch, or perhaps someone else? Time will tell…
As always, stay tuned to The Scoop for the latest.