Lincoln Riley is known across the country as the youngest head coach in the FBS. In Oklahoma, he’s known as the Sooners’ newest head coach. But to his two daughters, Sloane and Stella, he’s simply "Daddy." While the nation sees Riley as an offensive mastermind, Sloane and Stella see him as the man they have tea parties with — the man who reads Sloane princess stories before bed.
After Bob Stoops — the winningest coach in Oklahoma history — announced his retirement, Riley was named the Sooners’ 22nd head coach. The 33-year-old is following in legendary footsteps, but that might not be his biggest challenge. Riley is at a point in life where he has a young family, even younger than Stoops when he arrived in Norman. With nearly 100 football players looking to him for guidance, a coaching staff looking to him for direction and a wife and two daughters, the young coach is becoming a pro at balancing acts.
“I think you’ve just got to keep your priorities and that’s one thing that was fun to watch Coach Stoops over the last two years,” Riley said. “He was a guy that was very set in his priorities and always had time for his family. He was able to find that great balance of being successful at work and doing the things there that he needed to get done, but also still being a great family man. That’s all I’m going to do. I’m going to coach during the day and I’m going to get home when I can and see those girls and see my wife and that’s all I want to do.”
During the season, Riley is up and out of the house by 6:15 a.m., Riley’s wife, Caitlin, said. The two came up with a system that allows Riley to balance coaching and parenting. Caitlin and the girls eat lunch with him on Mondays — his longest days at the office — and try to make two practices a week. While the days at practice are fun, the special days are Thursdays when Riley gets home early.
“He’s wonderful,” Caitlin said. “Quantity is not always ideal. He’d love to be at home and spend more time, but when he is he tries his best to put down his phone for a little bit and make sure the time he has is quality.”
With an intense schedule, making sure that he has time with his wife and kids is imperative for Riley. It gives him a chance to take a break and have a moment of normalcy, Caitlin said. Now that he’s stepping into a bigger role, Riley realizes that he’s going to have to try even harder to find balance in his life.
“You’ve got to recharge your own batteries, and me being there as a dad is just so important. It’s one of the things going into this job that I know we’re going to have to figure out a little bit on the way,” Riley said. “But there’s nothing that’s going to keep me from making time for my wife and my family. This job is incredibly important to me, but it doesn’t compare to those three in my life.”
When Riley accepted the offensive coordinator position at Oklahoma, he had his family in mind. He had been at two family-friendly programs in East Carolina and Texas Tech, and wanted nothing less at OU, Riley said.
“These are years and times that you never get back with your kids,” Riley said. “Life is too short to be in a job or a place where you maybe liked the job or parts of the job, but if the family can’t be part of it it’s just not worth it. I would never have gone to a program where I knew that would be a question.”
Riley had faith in the family-friendly program Stoops and OU Athletic Director Joe Castiglione built over the past 18 years. Stoops and Castiglione emphasized the importance of families in press conferences the same way OU President David Boren emphasized the importance of families in welcoming speeches. This family environment is exactly what brought Riley to OU.
“The families involved in our culture and helping create that Sooner magic (are) so important and they are a big part of what we do,” Castiglione said at a press conference.
Now at the helm of the program, it’s Riley’s job to continue creating the family atmosphere that attracted him to OU.
“I knew what I was getting into here with Bob and how good he was with all of our families and I hope I can do just as good a job as he did with the families of our current staff,” Riley said. “I’ve had great people in my life that helped shape me, and if I wouldn’t have had them there’s no telling where I would be, so I hope that I can do the same for every player that walks through here.”
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