Just 35 years old and in command of an Oklahoma Sooners football program that made the College Football Playoffs in each of his first two years, Lincoln Riley is widely regarded as one of the biggest rising stars in the business. Riley worked closely with Baker Mayfield in college, as he helped guide Mayfield to a Heisman Trophy-winning campaign in 2017, where they came close to making the CFP finals after a double-overtime loss to Georgia.
Although Riley recently told reporters that he isn’t interested in making the leap from college football to the NFL, maintaining his commitment to staying with the Big 12 juggernaut, college head coaches are known for changing their minds.
Mayfield has been unsurprisingly full of praise, and while the Browns star quarterback firmly stated that it is Riley’s decision to make, it seems like he’d be excited to work with the former Texas Tech passer again.
Clearly, Riley is at the helm of a dynasty in college football, and even though Oklahoma has been unable to make it to the CFP finals, they have been consistently elite during Riley’s tenure.
In Mayfield and Kyler Murray, Riley has worked with back-to-back Heisman-winning quarterbacks, so he could be the next big thing as an NFL head coach, helping young quarterbacks play up to their potential. Projecting NFL head coaching success for college coaches is extremely difficult – as Nick Saban and Chip Kelly’s careers in the pros can attest – but Riley could be a worthy risk.
That said, because he seems genuinely committed to Oklahoma for the long-term, he has to be viewed as the least likely candidate on this list, even considering his bond with Mayfield.