Following the first day of Early Signing Period, here are five things we learned:
1. Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley could reprise Alec Baldwin’s role as “Blake”
Riley needs his own Glengarry Glen Ross spinoff. In this age of the Early Signing Period, the in-home visits following the end of the college football regular season are crucial.
And he’s knows his A-B-Cs—always be closing.
That’s not to say in-home visits weren’t important prior to the NCAA implementing a three-day period in December for recruits who wanted to formally, officially and categorically end their recruiting process by signing their National Letter of Intent with the university and program they felt best fit them.
Recruits used to have to stew for weeks following an in-home visit from a head coach and/or an assistant to sign on the dotted line. Now, that timeframe is just days with some players making the first day of the Early Signing Period their de facto National Signing Day.
While Riley secured commitments from top junior college recruits LaRon Stokes and Rhamondre Stevenson, he had to sit back and wait for high-profile uncommitted prospects Jeremiah Criddell and Marcus Stripling to throw the horns down on national television and pull the Oklahoma hat out from underneath the table, respectively, on Dec. 19.
2. No coordinator, no problem
With Riley’s offense rewriting school and NCAA records, no one was surprised to see he’d secured all but a couple of the 2019 class’ needs in offensive recruiting.
While it was curious not to have a second running back committed until the Sooners had secured their fourth consecutive Big 12 title and third College Football Playoff appearance, most believe OU wouldn’t have a problem finding a prized tailback by National Signing Day. (And Oklahoma did in Stevenson.)
But recruiting to a defense that is the worst to make a College Football Playoff since its inception and ranks in the triple digits of most major defensive statistical categories? That was always going to be an uphill climb—even for Oklahoma.
Then, when Riley made the decision to fire former defensive coordinator Mike Stoops, he’d effectively made himself the lead defensive recruiter for the program. With charisma and honesty, he walked into the homes of defensive recruits, flanked by assistant coaches, and sold them on the future of OU.
He answered questions related to finding the next man to become his top defensive assistant and quelled fears about what the defensive scheme and play-calling will look like in 2019. In so doing, he earned commitments and signings from four defensive recruits in four days.
3. Defensive backs and defensive linemen were priorities
Oklahoma’s defensive problems have primarily shown up when the Sooners are bullied on the defensive line and can’t keep the top on the defense.
Knowing those were issues that needed to be fixed—not just in scheme but in talent—the Sooners spent the last several months fiercely pursuing defensive backs and defensive linemen.
With four of the last five commitments coming from defensive ends and safeties, we can see how much of an emphasis Riley and the staff placed on fixing their two glaring deficiencies. With the signing of safeties Criddell and three-star recruit Ty DeArman, as well as a late pick up in Stripling, Oklahoma hopes to see the new wave of talent push for playing time on a defense that must be better.
4. Riley loves recruiting
In all the video that was tweeted and shared around Early Signing Period, the one that showed the most about Riley was his reaction to seeing Criddell commit to Oklahoma on national television on Wednesday morning.
Riley celebrated with his staff like he’d just got the G.I. Joe with Kung Fu grip for an early Christmas present. He was loud. He was boisterous. He was high-fiving and fist-pumping.
That is what it looks like to love your job and be perfectly present for the moment, which leads me to the final takeaway.
5. Riley isn’t going anywhere
As Riley continues to field offenses that drop 50 a game, anoint quarterbacks that win Heisman trophies and put a No. 1 overall NFL Draft pick in the league, the noise about his taking an NFL head coach or offensive coordinator job will only get louder.
For recruiting, this is positive more than it’s negative. There’s nothing wrong with a recruit and his family knowing you’re wanted at the highest level of football.
It’s also the kind of fact that’s been used to try to lure prospects away from Oklahoma. Yes, Riley loves coaching college football. He’s also got tremendous job security and a salary to match.
But Wednesday was our clearest and latest indication that Riley isn’t going anywhere. The man was smiling from ear-to-ear as he talked about this class and the process of winning a recruit and their family’s trust through hard work, building relationships and consistency.
He had the looks of a man who loves recruiting, and that’s just not true for every college football coach—even the ones who are good at it. Takes a different kind of cat to enjoy the work and hustle of recruiting, and that’s just not a high the NFL can offer.