A head coach’s largest immediate imprint comes with the hiring of his staff. Priorities, organizational skills and personality can be gleaned from those initial hires.
Oklahoma approved the contracts for Riley and all of his assistants Tuesday afternoon at the OU Board of Regents meeting in Oklahoma City.
Riley wasn’t interested in sweeping changes after taking the reins from Bob Stoops, according to athletic director Joe Castiglione. The new coach had final say on the current staff.
“I actually started the conversations with coach Stoops when the transition took place, then I picked them up with Lincoln,” Castiglione said.
Stoops observed that there wasn’t an ideal time for a coaching change. He wasn’t interested in a swan song season with Riley as the coach in waiting. Announcing at the end of the football season creates uncertainty in the weeks before National Signing Day.
One of the reasons Stoops chose a June departure after 18 seasons was the guarantees it provided those around him. Riley would be his successor. The assistant coaches he hired were guaranteed jobs for at least the 2017 season.
But if Riley wants to make changes in the coming years there shouldn’t be limitations. Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops, offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh and secondary coach Kerry Cooks and inside receivers coach Cale Gundy are the only holdover staff members with multi-year contracts. All of them expire following the 2018 season.
Riley’s lone hire brought his former boss, Ruffin McNeill, to the staff as defensive tackles coach/assistant head coach. He also received a two-year deal on Tuesday.
The salaries for assistant coaches continue to rise at OU. A few years ago, only the head coach garnered a multi-year contract. Half the staff has one now. Riley received a two-year deal worth $500,000 a season when Stoops hired him to be the offensive coordinator before the 2016 season.
Mike Stoops, Bedenbaugh and McNeill surpass Riley’s salary from 2016. That’s OU keeping up with the college football's Joneses.
“It’s all part of the market data we consider,” Castiglione said. “We look at both current and historical trends and what we’re capable and feel comfortable doing, and what best represents the University of Oklahoma. We make the decisions we feel are in our best interests, other than someone else on the outside trying to make them for us.”
For years, it was Castiglione and Stoops that made decisions. They sat each year following the season and figured it out. During that period, OU didn’t lose assistant coaches over money.
From now on, it’s Riley who will sit down with Castiglione and figure out what assistants are worth keeping around.