Lincoln Riley wants to turn USC into Michigan, win a championship Jim Harbaugh's way

Lincoln Riley wanting to win championships the right way like Jim Harbaugh did is so very ironic.

Lincoln Riley, USC Trojans
Lincoln Riley, USC Trojans / Kirby Lee/GettyImages

I am speechless, to be totally honest with you. Although I will do my best to unpack this and be respectful about it, I feel like I am taking crazy pills. So USC head coach Lincoln Riley spoke to Antonio Morales of The Athletic recently. One of the things the face of the Trojans talked about was trying to emulate the way Jim Harbaugh won at Michigan, which he deemed to be the right way.

Give me a break... I was born at night, not last night. While I am all for developing the talent you recruit, which Harbaugh and his staff did at Michigan, when has Riley ever done that, whether that be at USC or Oklahoma before that? Every quarterback of note for him from Baker Mayfield, to Kyler Murray, to Jalen Hurts, to Caleb Williams transferred in to play for him. Spencer Rattler transferred away, though.

There is a reason why Sooners fans have a special nickname for Riley: A four-letter acronym that sounds exactly a former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback at Florida. It can't be Steve Spurrier or Danny Wuerffel because they have too many letters in their names. I'll let you connect the dots becuase you are so smart. Riley is a finesse artist about to go into a league defined by toughness.

He infamously left Oklahoma upon news that the Sooners were going to the SEC. Riley fled to USC to the much easier Pac-12. Only after his first year in Los Angeles did news break that the Trojans were Big Ten-bound in 2024. To me, Riley is Kliff Kingsbury who got connected with Bob Stoops. I am allowed to change my opinion of him, but he must completely reshape what he does going forward.

Also, does Riley not realize that Michigan is about to be eviscerated by the NCAA for sign-stealing?

Lincoln Riley cannot see the irony in trying to win like Michigan did

If Riley wants to stop living and dying by the transfer portal, that is fine. However, he needs to have some level of self-awareness here. Riley is closer to Lane Kiffin in that regard than he is to Dabo Swinney. If Riley were to win Big Ten Championships and College Football Playoffs with top-15 classes featuring strictly homegrown players, I will have no problem saying his is a top-three coach.

However, the irony in these comments coming from Riley are not lost on me. This is the same man who poached Williams away from Oklahoma and Jordan Addison away from Pitt in the same offseason. Oklahoma just now recovered from this now entering year three under Brent Venables. The Pittsburgh Panthers may never recover from this, or as long as Pat Narduzzi is barking at trees.

While Riley was being praised as college football's greatest offensive wunderkind, Harbaugh was about to lose his job at Michigan. Up until COVID, he never beat Ohio State in The Game as a head coach. During the COVID year, Michigan did not win a single home game. Harbaugh had his salary cut in half. That is when the team started to play better, and when Connor Stalions came into the fold...

Has Michigan been a great team over the last three years? Oh, no question. Does Riley run the most physical version of the Air Raid I have ever seen? Quite possibly. I love seeing how his offenses use the running back to establish some level of physicality. That being said, I cannot really say Michigan is definitely innocent in this, just like I can't say Riley is always about the work and will never cut corners.

Again, people are afforded chances to reinvent themselves. No coach did a better job of this than former USC head coach Pete Carroll. He was the epitome of an also-ran after failing twice in the NFL with the New York Jets and New England Patriots. Carroll is a hall-of-fame head coach now after his run with the Seattle Seahawks. The 70-something is one season away from being eligible in college.

Overall, I am all for seeing Riley change his coaching philosophy. Becoming more like Michigan in some aspects would be a great start. However, he needs to care about defense more than he ever has in his life and stop playing flirt with the latest diva quarterback coming out of high school. A blue-collar ethos, even if it is manufactured, would play well at USC. Get more Troy Polamulas to star there.

Ultimately, this all starts with empowering guys like Miller Moss who have toughed it out by biding their time, as well as embracing the CEO-type as a head coach. Steve Sarkisian just did that, and look what that has done for him at Texas. We thought Kalen DeBoer was doing that at Washington, then he panicked and fell apart at the seams vs. Michigan in the national title bout in Houston before he left.

The college football standard was Nick Saban at Alabama, so let's not try and reinvent the wheel here.

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