No, Lincoln Riley Is Not Leaving USC to Coach the Arizona Cardinals

Ryan Phillips
Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic - Tulane v USC
Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic - Tulane v USC / Ron Jenkins/GettyImages
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The Arizona Cardinals fired Kliff Kingsbury on Monday after four lackluster seasons. Despite receiving a six-year extension in March, Kingsbury couldn't keep his job. Now attention turns to his possible replacement and across the spectrum many are beating the same drum on who should come next: USC head coach Lincoln Riley. I'm here to tell you there is absolutely no chance that will happen.

Most are making the connection to Riley due to his relationship with Cardinals franchise quarterback Kyler Murray. Murray won the 2018 Heisman Trophy while under Riley's tutelage at Oklahoma. He then went on to be the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. Yes, the two have history and a bond. I get why that isn't being discounted. But the Cardinals won't chase Riley and he wouldn't listen even if they did.

First off, the Cardinals just got done experimenting with a former college football coach who ran a version of the Air-Raid. I doubt the franchise has the stomach to run back that exact equation again.

Second, why would Riley leave USC for the NFL a year after arriving in LA? He took a team that went 4-8 in 2021 and went 11-3, was a game from the College Football Playoff and made a New Year's Six bowl in 2022. In 2023, he has a returning Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback in Caleb Williams and a bunch of key players coming back for their second year in his system. Things are only looking up for the Trojans.

Finally, we can just look at this financially. USC is (allegedly) paying Riley more than $10 million a year and he has job security for a decade. There is no chance the Cardinals will match or beat that deal. In fact, given the issues on the roster, they'd probably have to pay Riley upwards of $15 million a year and give him roster control to entice him to leave a comfortable spot in Southern California. That's just not going to happen.

As Kingsbury proved, college coaches have a really difficult time transitioning to the NFL. Do the Cardinals really want to go down that road again, when a number of guys with professional experience are available? I sincerely doubt it. And from Riley's perspective, this isn't the time to jump to the league. He might do so eventually, but if he had any interest in doing that any time soon, he would have stayed at Oklahoma and jumped from there.

Take Riley off your Kingsbury replacement bingo card.

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