Seahawks Coach Search: Is USC’s Lincoln Riley open to NFL?

Jan 18, 2024, 12:07 PM | Updated: 12:14 pm

Seattle Seahawks head coach Lincoln Riley...

Head coach Lincoln Riley of the USC Trojans on Oct. 14, 2023. (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

(Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

The last time the Seattle Seahawks hired a head coach, they went to the college ranks, pulling Pete Carroll from USC to lead the franchise.

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That moved worked well for both sides with Carroll running the show for 14 years, which included the Seahawks’ first Super Bowl title.

Well, Carroll is no longer the head coach, so they need a new one. Should the Seattle Seahawks look to the USC again and hire Lincoln Riley to fill the vacancy?

USC made a splash hire two years ago, hiring then-Oklahoma head coach Riley in a surprise move.

Riley, now 40, went 55-10 in five years as Oklahoma’s head coach, and he just finished a 8-5 season at USC in Year 2 in Los Angeles after going 11-3 in 2022.

Would Riley, who has no NFL experience even as an assistant coach, really consider making the leap to an NFL head coach role?

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“I think Lincoln Riley is very open to going to the NFL,” NFL insider Albert Breer of The MMQB told Seattle Sports’ Brock and Salk on Tuesday. “I think he’s very open to it. And he makes some sense, absolutely.”

The Seahawks, as of Friday morning, have reportedly requested interviews with eight NFL assistant coaches for their head coaching position and will reportedly seek an interview with one other candidate.

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On Tuesday, general manager John Schneider told reporters that “too many is not too many” in terms of casting a wide net in their search. He also said that it’s possible that the Seahawks will look at the college ranks for their head coach, but didn’t offer anything more than that.

Riley would certainly fit the mold of what many teams are looking for in their next head coach. Riley would be one of the league’s youngest head coaches, and he’s an offensive-minded leader who calls plays at USC and coached presumptive No. 1 pick Caleb Williams, the 2022 Heisman winner.

“I don’t think it’s a bad idea at all, especially at a time when it seems like the pipeline of offensive coaches (at the NFL) is running a little bit dry just because there have been so many guys hired on that side of the ball the last few years,” Breer said.

But what about potential issues for Riley, who hasn’t won a national championship and had his worst record as a head coach in 2023?

“I think the biggest question with him would be, ‘OK, who are you bringing staff-wise?’ Because that’s been a problem even at the college level,” Breer said of Riley. “But as far as like being able to evaluate talent, which he’s done and you have to do at the college level, being able to kind of meld people together on the fly – it didn’t work out this year, but last year they were able to win with a bunch of transfers – and being able to win consistently. I think all that’s there. Now again, I think whether or not he succeeds in the NFL would ride heavily on who he’s planning on bringing in as staff.”

Listen to Brock and Salk’s full interview with Albert Breer at this link or in the player near the top of this story.

College insider calls Riley a “roll of the dice” in NFL

On Thursday, Brock and Salk had another football insider, Bruce Feldman of FOX Sports and The Athletic, on the show, and they asked him about the possibility of Riley going to the NFL.

“I could be way wrong on this, but I think Lincoln Riley’s stock has cooled quite a bit in the last year,” Feldman, a college football insider, said.

Riley is a “brilliant offensive mind” who is great with quarterbacks and designing plays, Feldman said, but the challenge for him either in the NFL or staying at USC is defense “and how the pieces come together.”

“I don’t think everyone can pin this on, ‘Oh, he had a bad defense coordinator in Alex Grinch’ and that was it,” Feldman said.

Feldman acknowledged that Riley took over a USC program that was “in terrible shape” and “in dissaray.” He also said the previous athletic department that hired Riley was very dysfunctional. That makes USC’s 11-win season in 2022 especially impressive.

But the Trojans had “some things get exposed” in 2023, Feldman said, when they had a worse offensive line and tougher schedule.

“I think the challenge for Lincoln is how do you manage the program? How do you run the organization at its optimum? Not just how do we have the best offense possible? And I’m not saying he neglected those things,” Feldman said.

Riley also has no experience coaching in the NFL, which Feldman said makes him a huge gamble for the Seahawks or any other team that may be interested in hiring him.

“I’m not saying he can’t do it, but I definitely think for a franchise it would be much more of a roll of the dice,” he said. “Because while yes, he’s a brilliant offensive mind, who’s he gonna lean on for everything else that really is going to matter in running an organization? Because at the end of the day, I’m not saying Lincoln can’t coach grown men, but that is a different dynamic entirely. So I think that would be a gamble. I have a ton of respect for Lincoln. But I think we’ve seen a bunch of college coaches go in who had very little background in the NFL and bombed spectacularly.”

Feldman mentioned Urban Meyer’s brief stint in Jacksonville and Matt Rhule’s tenure in Carolina as two examples of coaches with little to no NFL experience flopping with an NFL head coaching opportunity.

“That sets those organizations back tens of millions of dollars,” he said. “Again, Lincoln might be sharper than those guys, but it would be a big roll of the dice.”

Listen to Brock and Salk’s full interview with Bruce Feldman at this link or in the player below.

More on the Seattle Seahawks’ head coaching search

Salk: The case for Mike Vrabel as Seattle Seahawks’ next coach
Why K.J. Wright thinks Seahawks should hire Dan Quinn as head coach
Schlereth: What could motivate Seahawks to get offensive-minded coach
• What would Vrabel, Quinn, Harbaugh bring as Seattle Seahawks coach?
• Seahawks Notebook: What GM John Schneider said about coach search
• Seahawks Coach Search: Bump’s easy, smart and fun picks
• Who are Seahawks’ first reported coach interview requests?
• Schefter shares if 2 big-name coaches could be in play for Seahawks

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Seahawks Coach Search: Is USC’s Lincoln Riley open to NFL?