FRISCO, Texas (TNS) — Six interview booths stretched across the south end zone of the Ford Center at The Star.
Each was labeled with a nameplate affixed atop the backdrop checkered with the Big 12 logo.
Lincoln Riley. Orlando Brown. Ogbonnia Okoronkwo. Baker Mayfield. Steven Parker.
But the final booth in the row was missing that nameplate.
Surely it wasn’t done on purpose. With Kansas State set to bring five players along with coach Bill Snyder the next day, there had to be an extra interview booth somewhere. It was pure happenstance that the empty spot was set up in OU’s row.
And yet, it was accidentally and poetically symbolic because another Sooner was there in spirit.
Just down the row from that empty booth sat Riley, wearing a bold red and blue paisley tie picked out by his wife and maroon polka-dot socks picked out himself, as media flocked around him for 90 minutes in the grande finale interview session of the afternoon.
It was his chance to begin establishing his own identity as OU’s next head coach, but throughout the day, Riley evoked the essence of his former boss.
He’s hardly a dead ringer for Stoops, but as Riley delivered a five-minute opening statement for the formal news conference earlier in the day, his clipped tone and deliberate cadence sounded pretty similar to that of Stoops.
As he progressed to the question-and-answer portion of the formal news conference, Riley’s West Texas drawl grew stronger, drastically deviating from Stoops’ signature Ohio curtness.
Riley’s not Bob Stoops 2.0. He said as much, but it’s hard not to notice the Stoops influence that the Riley Era brings with it.
A year ago, the Oklahoma football media guides featured a visor-wearing Stoops surrounded by seven players. This time around, the guides stacked on the tables at The Star featured the new boss wearing the same white visor.
In addition to sideline fashion, Riley also shares a similar perspective on player punishments, noting that, like Stoops, he believes in second chances.
“I think he and I are very similar,” Riley said. “Had I left and taken a head coach (job) somewhere else, I would have carried a lot of things that he does with me just because I think he’s really good, and I think it’s kind of proven the test of time.”
And even though he’s the youngest head coach in major-college football, Riley has a maturity beyond his years, also likely a product of working with Stoops.
“He’s got an old soul,” offensive lineman Orlando Brown said. “He may be 33, but he acts like he’s 45 — in a way.”
While Stoops was missed at media day, it’s doubtful the feeling was mutual.
“He might’ve been happier about missing this than anything about the job,” Riley said, laughing.
At his first major event as OU’s head coach, Riley handled the media gauntlet with grace, even as reporters swarmed his small table, standing two and three deep for the chance to hear from the new head coach in his last interview session of the afternoon.
He stayed loose through the 90-minute breakout, which took place in those small booths in the south end zone, joking with reporters as he leaned back in his chair, his hands casually tucked into his black dress pants pockets.
Off to the side of the scrum stood OU athletic director Joe Castiglione, at the event for the first time in more than five years to support the new head coach.
The reinforcement was welcomed, but Riley was more than prepared for the spotlight.
“I know our team,” he said of his preparation. “I’m fairly honest and real when it comes to the media. That’s not hard for me. Just come up here and be myself.”
That final session was scheduled to last until 4 p.m., but as the clock ticked to 4:05, Riley was still sitting at the table, answering a few remaining questions from reporters still huddled around. By that point in the afternoon, the questions were a little bit silly and plenty repetitive. But Riley finished his overtime interview with patience, never appearing exhausted or exasperated — even after being asked for the umpteenth time about how often he’s called, or plans on calling, Stoops.
By the time he finally stood from his chair in the south end zone of The Star, the first-year head coach had endured a six-hour marathon of news conferences, sit-down interviews and photos.
Riley was just getting started, too.
“I’ll go to the office and get a little work done,” he said with a grin, “and then take a nap.”