Riley’s ‘business decision’ was morally and ethically questionable

Thanksgiving break is such a wonderful time of the year for most people. It’s at least a day off work, often two or in some cases a week, that includes good food, family, and football. In Oklahoma, it’s a little more special. Especially this year when the annual Bedlam rivalry transpired and didn’t yield the same result as it usually does, whatsoever.

The University of Oklahoma has a stronghold on the rivalry, with a 90-18-7 overall record dating back to 1904. However, that came to a screeching halt on Saturday, when Oklahoma State edged out an entertaining and well-earned win over the Sooners, 37-33.

OU and OSU’s players and fanbase went into Saturday’s matchup knowing that it was potentially the last Bedlam matchup for a very long time, with OU’s impending move to the SEC on the horizon. What nobody but the OU coaching staff knew was that this would be the end of another era for OU and that Mike Gundy’s first Bedlam win over Lincoln Riley would be his last.

Sunday afternoon, OU announced that Riley decided to leave the program for the head coaching vacancy at the University of Southern California. Later Sunday evening, offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh, defensive coordinator Alex Grinch and wide receiver coach Dennis Simmons followed Riley. Director of operations Clarke Stroud and strength coach Bennie Wylie were added to the assistant coaches who would move to SoCal with Riley. Additionally, the surplus of 2022 and 2023 commits that de-committed from the university following the news, and the number of recruits following them seem to increase by the hour.

Riley’s move weirdly feels the same as Kevin Durant’s move in 2016. It’s not the same, but to OU fans, it feels the same. No, Riley isn’t heading to a team coming off a historic season, but how he left is the enigma.

Just like the Durant situation, you have the “He did what’s best for his family” crowd, and you have the “f**k Lincoln Riley and the coaches that are leaving with him” crowd.

Credibility comes with both statements, but you can’t ignore the most important aspect of this.

Lincoln Riley and the coaches that left with him let a fanbase down, but that’s not the issue. There’s a broader issue here. There’s been a complete flip of moral and ethical law. Contracts mean nothing. A man’s word is not his bond. And transparency is extinct.

Coach Riley has every right to make a business decision, and he owns the right to make the best decisions for his family. That’s only viewing this on a surface level if that’s the justification your using for defending Riley’s decision. There are so many things (the things I listed above) that go deeper than him just making a simple business decision.

The most basic of this argument is Riley’s $38.9M contract extension that he signed ere the 2021 season that was worth roughly $7.6M per year. The extension should have kept him at the University of Oklahoma through the 2025-26 season.

But since contracts in sports today on both sides are irrelevant, Riley knowing Clay Helton would likely be relieved of his duties at USC explains his obsession with recruiting almost exclusively on the West Coast. It appears as if Lincoln’s been eyeing this USC job for most, if not the entire calendar year. Was Lincoln recruiting for USC on OU’s dollar?

The biggest issue for me from the outside looking in is Riley spending time with high school juniors and seniors, building relationships with them, and telling them face-to-face that he’d be at OU long-term (or at least through his contract). It’s bothersome knowing that a large portion of those kids took the 38-year old’s word as his bond, felt that connection, and chose to make the most significant decision of their lives to move across the country, in most cases, to Oklahoma for college. All for Riley to flee to the West Coast mysteriously after real adversity hit the program.

The conspiracies don’t hold as much weight as the previous arguments, but those who have watched a Lincoln Riley-coached team over the past five seasons could tell that this team looked weirdly uninspired compared to any other year since he’s been ‘the man’ at OU. We blamed position groups, players like Spencer Rattler, and more when in the end, Lincoln Riley likely was the uninspired one, which rubbed off on his team negatively. Which, once again, is unfair to the kids, more than the fanbase.

The ‘business decision’ excuse in many cases is true, but every business decision isn’t morally or ethically acceptable. Every business decision isn’t conducted tactfully. Every business decision isn’t done with the student-athletes best interest at heart (which it should in these cases). And lastly, every business decision isn’t immune to criticism.

We wish Lincoln Riley the best of luck in Southern California, but that doesn’t negate the fact that he deceived the University of Oklahoma and its recruits in this ‘business decision’ of his.

About the author

Founder & Editor-in-Chief. National Association of Black Journalists. University of Central Oklahoma.


  1. Good writing. However I disagree with your moral and ethical assessment of any person’s decision to do what they feel is best for them and their family. We have to remember that Riley’s position at OU was his job. No one should be married to their job and employment contracts are not vows of until death do we part. All of us are offered and accept employment based on a perceived good fit between the two parties at that time, when a better fit comes available for either party, it’s not immoral or unethical for either to pursue what they feel will be a better fit for them. I don’t know anyone over 25 that hasn’t left one place of employment for another.

  2. I wouldn’t be surprised if a breach-of-contract lawsuit comes out of this. Between losing high school commitments and taking half the coaching staff w/ him, I think OU had a compelling case it has sustained financial injury as a direct consequence of Riley’s sudden and unexpected departure. Moves of this magnitude don’t happen over night. It’s had to have been in the works for quite a while now. Riley did NOT act in good faith, but was willfully deceitful and misleading to the players, staff, and administration. If he really was unhappy he could have negotiated a better transition. Dropping a bombshell lime this, not after the season/bowl game but less than 24 hours after losing the single most important game of the year smacks of cowardice and a gross lack of integrity. My schaudenfreud is gleefully awaiting his professional collapse.

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