Oklahoma governor Kevin Stitt found an easy way to earn some points with Sooners fans during his annual State of the State address on Monday by taking a thinly veiled shot at former OU head coach Lincoln Riley. While talking about his perceived divide between red states and blue states, Stitt pointed out that a number of people moved from the West Coast to Oklahoma during the pandemic.
"Can you imagine leaving a place like Norman, Oklahoma, for Southern California -- I mean, who would do that?" Stitt joked to scattered laughs and applause. "You'll get that in a minute."
Of course, Riley, the highest-paid employee in the state of Oklahoma in 2021, did just that after accepting the USC head-coaching job in November. The former Sooners coach became the first Oklahoma coach since 1947 to leave the Sooners for another collegiate job, and the first coach since the 1970s to leave for any job. Riley's decision coming just five years after NBA star Kevin Durant made a similar jump from the Oklahoma City Thunder to the Bay Area-based Golden State Warriors only made the pain worse.
Funnily enough, Stitt actually went to rival Oklahoma State for college. When it comes to earning political points, though, fandom goes out the window. Cowboys basketball fans were much less forgiving -- Oklahoma State students held up photos of Riley and USC logos during its 64-55 victory over the Sooners on Saturday.
Riley posted a 55-10 record as coach of the Sooners, including 37-7 in conference play with four consecutive Big 12 championships. The 2021 season was his first time missing the conference title game since it returned in 2017; the Sooners still finished 10-2 and ranked in the AP top 10.
To replace Riley, Oklahoma hired longtime assistant Brent Venables, who helped build Clemson into a national power as defensive coordinator. Venables went to Salinas South (Kansas) for high school, just four hours down the road from Norman. After losing Riley to USC, finding someone who spent 13 years at OU as an assistant coach was the only choice.