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Will USC coach Lincoln Riley follow Caleb Williams to NFL?

If the Rams end up looking for a coach in the near future, the best candidate might be in the backyard

USC v Stanford Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

No matter what your opinion is on whether or not the Los Angeles Rams are hoping to be in contention for the number one pick in 2024 in order to draft Caleb Williams, you can’t deny that NFL media will spending all season tracking which teams are in the running for the USC quarterback who is often compared to Patrick Mahomes. Are the Rams “tanking for Caleb”? Well, for that to be true, they have a few more moves left to make with regards to the futures of Matthew Stafford, Aaron Donald, and Cooper Kupp.

But are some teams tanking? I think it’s safe to assume that once there are a few NFL teams who are 0-6 or thereabouts that the will to win any more games will get weaker and weaker.

Whether that will include the L.A. Rams, nobody can say for sure, but I’m positive that the NFL wouldn’t mind if their next top superstar stayed in Los Angeles. What I am curious about is whether or not his head coach for the last three years, arguably the most attractive hire for any NFL team right now, would consider following him to the team that selects Caleb Williams.

At the college level, Riley has become a legend in a short period of time. Getting his start under Mike Leach at Texas Tech, coaching the likes of Michael Crabtree and Danny Amendola, Riley’s career took off in 2015 when he became Oklahoma’s offensive coordinator and helped Baker Mayfield finish in the top-5 in Heisman voting for the next two seasons. When Riley replaced Bob Stoops as head coach in 2017, Mayfield finally won the Heisman and then became the number one pick in the draft.

His next quarterback, Kyler Murray, also won the Heisman and became the number one pick in the draft.

And the quarterback who followed him, transfer Jalen Hurts, finished second in Heisman voting and was a second round pick of the Eagles, recently leading Philadelphia to the Super Bowl and signing a mega-sized contract extension.

Riley’s one disappointment at quarterback, five-star prospect Spencer Rattler, was decent in 2020 but then replaced by true freshman Caleb Williams in 2021. Taking advantage of the new rules regarding the transfer portal, Williams followed Riley to USC and the pair led the Trojans to an 11-3 record last season, the team’s best finish since 2017.

And Williams became Riley’s third Heisman winner.

Whether Williams wins a second Heisman or not, one of the most impossible things to do in college football as voters like to spread the love around, he is as close to a shoo-in for the number one pick as any prospect could possibly hope to be a year away from the draft. Given the transfer portal and the NIL (college athletes can now be paid millions of dollars with brand deals), it is fair to ask if Riley is considering following Williams to the next level.

Staying in college isn’t the same as it used to be, so even though USC has another five-star quarterback prospect waiting in the wings—Los Alamitos product Malachi Nelson—there is no guarantee that he will stay with the Trojans. Or like Rattler, there’s no guarantee that he’s any good.

Riley has consistently been among the best college football coaches for the last seven years and he’s produced a Heisman winner in basically half of his seasons at the helm.

Though we’ve seen college coaches fail time and time again when making the jump to the pros, many NFL teams would salivate over the opportunity to add a quarterback whisperer to the coaching staff and none have proven to have more success than Riley. Truly the most ideal situation for a team like the Rams would be if they could get Sean McVay and Riley to work together for a year or two, as it would not only make Riley better prepared for the league, it would also make McVay a better coach too.

But given how dramatic of a pay cut it would be for Riley to go from USC’s head coach to L.A.’s offensive coordinator, that’s not likely to happen.

McVay has openly expressed how difficult the 2022 season was for him and he contemplated a future after football this past January. If the Rams are forced to look in another direction at head coach in the near future, Lincoln Riley is a local candidate who would bring the type of cache and superstar appeal that few other coaches—if any—bring at this current time. Would he be a success? Well, would any coach be a success?

9 out of 10 are fired before you know it and the vast majority of them are your typical assistant coaching hires from other NFL teams.

That’s not something that the Los Angeles Rams are close to having to think about. Right now, they have one of the best head coaches in the NFL. But if we get to the end of the year and the playoffs are well out of sight, and if Riley’s noticing that the NCAA rules have changed too much to benefit a person of his recruiting talents, it could be a move that starts to gain some traction.