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Saturday, January 22, 2022

How USC Landed the Lincoln Riley and All the Little Things That Had to Go Right

As a matter of perspective, USC’s process to find new head coach Lincoln Riley didn’t begin with the firing of Clay Helton in September. It began two years ago, when Mike Bohn was appointed from Cincinnati as USC’s new athletic director.

Bonn and Chief of Staff Brandon Sosna sit down with Helton and his assistants for their first meeting. Many USC fans at the time wished that the coaching staff had been relieved of their duties there and then. But instead Bohn and Sosna had a question.

What do you need?

USC had fallen badly behind other college football Blue Bloods in infrastructure, ranging from recruiting staff to nutritionists to strengthening staff. Sosna wrote the coach’s answers on the Post-It and placed it on her new desk.

He and Bohn went to work placing checks next to those items, to make sure Helton had the resources to work with before anyone else decided to do the same.

“We have all seen so many programs that believe that the answer is to continually hire and fire and hire and fire, like without a general manager and owned NFL coach, alignment and support and resources are important. ,” Sosna said Monday after Riley’s introduction.

“I don’t think two years ago Lincoln Riley will be head coach at USC. I don’t know for sure, but I think the state of our program and the alignment of our university and our leadership, what you heard there, was very real. Was. “

Once it was time for USC to begin the actual coaching search, the first name that came to mind was Lincoln Riley. She was Bohn and Sosna’s white whale, a name they first swam in 2014 when Bohn was in Cincinnati and Sosna was his apprentice, and Riley was the offensive coordinator in East Carolina.

When he reached out to Riley in 2017, he neither answered nor returned his calls, as he was on the verge of being promoted to head coach at Oklahoma. In 2019, Bohan and Sosna had to wait two months to see if he would pick up the phone this time.

In the meantime, they went about their procedure. He screened dozens of candidates. He presented a 50-page slideshow to industry insiders to spread the gospel about Reconstruction USC. He consulted and strategized with University President Carol L. Fault and Board of Trustees Chairman Rick Caruso. They set up a transition team to plan and expedite the roll out of the announcement.

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The entire time, Riley topped the list. But it remained a closely guarded secret. Even when Riley agreed to an interview, USC chose to operate it on Zoom rather than risk taking a private plane for Norman.

“Anytime you try to do something personally over time, it can be problematic. More people have to engage. Twitter flight tracker people are going to be problematic,” Sosna said. The biggest danger for anything like this is getting out of the word.”

But of all the things that had to align with Riley for USC to get a foot in the door, the last one was the most chaotic: the result of a football game.

As USC face BYU at the Coliseum on Saturday, Bohn and Sosna played Oklahoma’s game against Oklahoma State in their suite. They live and die with every zany update: The Cowboys were taking an early lead, only to respond soon after. Oklahoma State returning kickoff for a touchdown. Oklahoma scored an unanswered 16 to take a two-capture lead. The Cowboys scored thanks to a muffered punt by the Sooners. In the end, mercifully, a fourth-down sack at OSU 32 with eight seconds left to ice the game.

Riley’s regular season was over. The Sooners won’t be going to the Big 12 championship game nor the college football playoffs. It was time for USC to make contact, instead of turning to Plan B in the face of Riley’s extended season.

“It felt a bit like ‘Ender’s Game,’ when Oklahoma State won that game,” Sosna said, referring to the 1985 science-fiction novel. “It was like, ‘Hey, the enemy gates are down, let’s get it done.'”

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