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Oklahoma Football: 10 Coaching Candidates to Replace Lincoln Riley

Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma Sooners Football

Oklahoma is the latest college football program looking for a new head coach, as Lincoln Riley is leaving Norman to take over at USC. Riley went 55-10 as the head coach for the Sooners, guiding the team to at least nine victories every year and earning a trip to the CFB Playoff in four of five seasons at the helm. He’s regarded as one of the top offensive minds in college football and consistently produced elite offenses at Oklahoma.

Who could replace Riley at Oklahoma? Here are 10 names to watch in the coaching search:

10 Coaching Candidates to Replace Lincoln Riley at Oklahoma

Dave Aranda, Head Coach, Baylor
Reports indicated Aranda is expected to ink an extension with Baylor, but until that is completed, his name could pop in coaching searches - especially at Oklahoma. Aranda is 12-9 with the Bears, including a 10-2 mark this year with an appearance in the Big 12 title game. Prior to taking over at Baylor, Aranda worked as the defensive coordinator at a handful of jobs, including LSU, Wisconsin, Utah State and Hawaii.

Matt Campbell, Head Coach, Iowa State
Campbell’s name popped up in searches for other Power 5 openings in recent years and is a name to watch at Oklahoma. He’s 42-33 at Iowa State since the 2016 season and guided the team to a 9-3 mark with an appearance in the Big 12 title game in ’20. After a 3-9 record in ’16, the Cyclones have yet to have a losing record in each of the last five years. Prior to Iowa State, Campbell went 35-15 at Toledo from 2011-15.

Mike Elko, Defensive Coordinator, Texas A&M
Elko is a rising star in the coordinator ranks and seems primed to land a head-coaching job at the Power 5 level in the near future. Although Elko has no previous Power 5 experience, he’s worked as a successful defensive coordinator at Bowling Green, Wake Forest and Notre Dame prior to helping the Aggies emerge as one of the top defenses in the SEC.

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Luke Fickell, Head Coach, Cincinnati
Fickell isn’t in any hurry to leave Cincinnati, but his name is likely to pop in searches for the top jobs this offseason. Could a move to Oklahoma garner more interest than the openings at LSU, USC or Florida? Fickell is 47-14 at Cincinnati and has guided the program to 32 victories over the last three years. The Bearcats are also one win away from a trip to the CFB Playoff in 2021.

Alex Grinch, Defensive Coordinator, Oklahoma
Could Oklahoma promote from within to replace Riley? Grinch has worked in Norman since the 2019 season, helping the Sooners improve on defense after a rocky ’18 campaign. Grinch does not have any previous experience as a FBS coach but also has stops as an assistant at Missouri, Washington State and Ohio State.

Josh Heupel, Head Coach, Tennessee
Heupel is a former Oklahoma quarterback but had a difficult parting with the program after he was fired as the program’s offensive coordinator at the end of the ‘14 season. A reunion seems unlikely, but his past ties with the program merit a mention here. Heupel went 28-8 as UCF’s coach from 2018-20 and finished 7-5 in his debut at Tennessee in ’21.

Lane Kiffin, Head Coach, Ole Miss
Could Oklahoma look to another offensive-minded head coach? Kiffin guided Ole Miss to a 10-2 mark this year, bringing his record in Oxford to 15-7 since 2020. He also went 26-13 at FAU (2017-19) and finished 28-15 at USC (2010-13) before he was dismissed as the program's head coach. Kiffin had a successful stint as Alabama's offensive coordinator and excels at recruiting. 

Jeff Lebby, Offensive Coordinator, Ole Miss
Lebby is a native of Texas, has produced high-powered offenses at Ole Miss and graduated from Oklahoma, so his name will definitely get some run in this search. Lebby has also spent time as an assistant at Baylor and UCF. However, he does not have any previous experience as a FBS head coach.

Mark Stoops, Head Coach, Kentucky
Could another Stoops take over at Oklahoma? His brother Bob Stoops led the program from 1999-2016, and Stoops has compiled an impressive resume since taking over at Kentucky in 2013. The Wildcats are 58-53 since his arrival, which includes a 10-3 mark in ’18 and six consecutive bowl trips (counting ’21) since ’16.

Brent Venables, Defensive Coordinator, Clemson
Venables doesn’t seem to be in any hurry to become a head coach, as he has a good job as the defensive coordinator at Clemson. However, Venables has some times to Oklahoma as an assistant from 1999-2011. Venables is regarded as one of the top defensive coordinators in college football. However, he has no previous experience as a FBS head coach.