BY JOHN ROHDE
Special to SoonerSports.com
Oct. 27, 2017
Lincoln and Caitlin Riley have two daughters, but you’ll frequently hear Caitlin refer to “the boys.” In her eyes, her husband doesn’t coach the Oklahoma Sooners. He coaches the boys. And Caitlin considers them family.
“That’s the truth,” OU senior quarterback Baker Mayfield confirmed with a chuckle. “She has two daughters, but she also has about 115 boys.”
Having always been a football wife, Caitlin said there were no major adjustments when Lincoln was promoted from offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach to replace Bob Stoops as the Sooners’ head coach on June 7 of this year.
“It’s been good, exciting, never a dull moment,” Caitlin said. “It’s what I had anticipated — having the desire to win, to feel strongly involved and invested, that didn’t really change. I felt that way when Lincoln was offensive coordinator.”
Caitlin already is reaping high praise from OU players.
Senior defensive end/outside linebacker Ogbonnia Okoronkwo: “She’s really one of the nicest humans I’ve ever met.”
All-American junior offensive tackle Orlando Brown: “Great, great woman.”
Mayfield: “She is one of the sweetest ladies.”
At age 34, Lincoln Riley is the youngest FBS head coach, but Caitlin said a lot of work went into her husband’s rapid ascent.
“Him coaching football started fresh out of high school, so it’s all I know,” she explained. “I thought he’d be a high school coach when we started dating in high school. It’s seems like a long time ago. We left (Texas) Tech eight years ago, four years as a coach and as a student before that. So it seems like a lot of work has gone into it. He is very young, but he has put a lot of time in.”
Lincoln attended Muleshoe (Texas) High School, about 70 miles northwest of Lubbock, and rival Dimmit High School was located roughly 45 miles northeast of Muleshoe. The Rileys started dating in 2002 when Lincoln was a freshman at Texas Tech and Caitlin was a senior at Dimmit. Lincoln graduated in December of 2005, Caitlin graduated in May of 2006 and they got married July 14, 2007.
Every Monday and Wednesday, Caitlin brings Sloan, who will be 5 in December, and Stella, 1, to practice. “We go to see dad,” Caitlin said. “Those are two of his later nights, so he’s generally not home to put the girls to bed. So we run around and see the boys. We take dinner out there and have practice picnics.”
Caitlin, who was a kindergarten teacher before starting a family, said she particularly enjoys having the boys over to their house for functions. “I love to be involved in the middle of it, get to know the boys as people and learn about their families and what they love,” Caitlin said.
Lincoln and Caitlin used to host players on offense, but now it’s the entire team, plus recruits. “We just needed a little more space to have them all over,” she said. “We get to have everybody. We get a lot more hugs now. We have our two girls and we have all our boys. That’s who we know and love and that grows.”
Mayfield laughed at the sheer magnitude of hosting an entire football team at the house. “It’s kind of like a herd of animals coming in and out of the house,” Mayfield said of the occasions. “They always do a great job caring for us. It’s not under their contract or job description to truly care for us, but that’s what makes it so special about them.”
The Rileys’ mutual admiration is easily evident, and they don’t mind sharing that bond with the entire program.
“The family atmosphere has always been here,” Mayfield said. “With Carol Stoops, the special thing about her is she would write hand-written letters to the guys. She would always do stuff like that. Now you have Caitlin. For kids who come a long way from home, it’s important to see Coach Riley and his wife really hold together the family and the unity. They truly care about everybody around here and that’s important.”
In just her first five games, Caitlin already had experienced the highest highs (a 31-16 victory at No. 2-ranked Ohio State) and the lowest lows (a 38-31 loss at home to then-unranked Iowa State) of being the First Lady of Oklahoma Football.
“The hardest part about losing a game is I know what they all put into it, how hard they’ve worked and how badly they want it more than anybody else could ever want it,” Caitlin said of those within the OU program. “Their heart is totally in it.”
Caitlin is so invested in her husband’s duties, she asked permission to attend his often-tedious weekly media luncheon every Monday. Lincoln initially balked at the idea, until Caitlin explained why she wanted to do it. “I’ve always felt it’s important to be by his side in the good and the bad, so I want to be there every week no matter what,” Caitlin said. “Honestly, it’s a good 10-minute walk (from his office) that we get to see each other and visit alone. It’s some time we get to catch up during the day.”
Lincoln smiled and said, “She’s got some good points. This time of year, finding 10 minutes just to talk or spend some time together, you don’t get much of it right now.”
Brown said he believes Caitlin is partly responsible for her husband’s calm demeanor. “I think she really understands everything that he (Lincoln) goes through,” Brown said. “For the most part, I think the reason he’s able to be so calm and be there for us is because of her and all the pressure she takes off of him.”
Whenever Lincoln seeks some head coaching counsel, he can easily chat with former bosses in Stoops and Ruffin McNeill, whom Riley served with at Texas Tech (2003-09) and at East Carolina (2010-14). After becoming OU’s head coach, Riley quickly hired McNeill as the Sooners’ assistant head coach/defensive tackles coach.
Turns out, Caitlin looks in the same direction when she seeks insight. “I talk to Carol Stoops a lot and to Erlene McNeill also,” Caitlin admitted. “They’re both very dear to my heart. I trust them and know they will always have great advice, plus I got to see first-hand how they handled things.”
At 7 p.m. Saturday, the No. 10-ranked Sooners host Texas Tech, the Rileys’ alma mater. Caitlin and Lincoln may have experienced some unpleasant flashbacks this week.
Caitlin’s first-ever experience at Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium was the 2008 contest when the No. 5 Sooners hosted the No. 2-ranked and 10-0 Red Raiders. It’s affectionately referred to as the “Jump Around” game, with OU fans incessantly bobbing up and down to House of Pain’s rhythmic rap blasting full volume through the loud speakers. The Sooners dominated with a 65-21 victory.
“Oh my goodness, I’ve never seen anything like it,” Caitlin recalled.
The game remains fresh in the mind of Lincoln, who was Texas Tech’s inside receivers coach at the time. “Ooh, a nightmare,” Lincoln said Monday, with a nodding Caitlin watching roughly 25 feet away to his left. “That was still to this day probably the best atmosphere I’ve ever played or coached or been a part of. That’s one of my lasting memories of it. Those who think a crowd or a great atmosphere can’t have an effect on the game, they weren’t at that game that night. I mean it was just unbelievable. It was a tough game, man. Oklahoma got the momentum and took it away from us and we could never get it back. It felt like we were just going head-first into a buzzsaw. It was amazing. It was a great atmosphere. It was a great team. It was a long night for us.”
Fully aware that being a football wife is no easy gig, Lincoln said he knew he found a special match in Caitlin.
“It’s a hard life for them, but she’s been nothing but incredibly supportive and unselfish,” Lincoln said of his better half. “You hear about it a lot, but it really is a hard life for them. It’s lonely a lot, and all that goes along with it, especially if something doesn’t go well. It’s hard, but she’s been great. She keeps me going, there’s no doubt. She inspires me to keep things rolling because she certainly does. She’s always been supportive and she’s always been a person to put others in front of herself and she’s certainly done that with me and my family.”
And what does Caitlin admire most about her husband? “His honesty. His integrity. His heart,” she said. “This (coaching) is really what he loves. The boys are what he loves. Well, they’re not boys. They’re big, but they’re boys.”