BEREA — Lincoln Riley’s never played or coached in the NFL.
Baker Mayfield isn’t deterred. He has no doubt Riley, his coach at Oklahoma, would be a smashing success if he decides to make the jump.
“Lincoln’s been ready, it’s just who he is and how he coaches and the respect level he’s had from all of his players, how detailed he is,” Mayfield said Wednesday. “Yeah, he’s ready but that’s his decision and he’s got something special there, so I don’t think anybody is going to blame him if he stays there for the next 20 years.”
The Browns are looking for a coach after Hue Jackson was fired Oct. 29 and replaced by defensive coordinator Gregg Williams on an interim basis. Mayfield said he hasn’t talked to Riley about coming to Cleveland.
“It’s not my decision, so not worried about it,” he said. “We’re happy with what we’ve got right now and we’re working week by week.”
Mayfield was asked if he thinks Riley wants to try the NFL.
“Down the road probably but right now I’m not going to speak for him,” he said. “But he’s ready whenever that time comes.”
Riley, 35, is in only his second season as a head coach but is 24-3 with the Sooners and has them headed back to the College Football Playoff for the second straight year. They face Alabama on Dec. 29 in a semifinal.
The Sooners have the NCAA’s No. 1 offense with 577.9 yards a game, 8.75 per play and 81 offensive touchdowns.
Riley was Oklahoma’s coordinator for two years before taking over as coach for Bob Stoops, and the idea of hiring an offensive mastermind with a deep connection to the franchise quarterback could be appealing for the Browns. But Mayfield didn’t refer to X’s and O’s when explaining why Riley would be able to make a successful transition to the NFL when others like Chip Kelly, Steve Spurrier and Bobby Petrino have failed.
“To me, after being here, it’s about respect,” Mayfield said. “You get a locker room full of guys that are making a lot of money, obviously the egos are going to be there. You have to have the respect in guys. You have to be able to get the best out of them even when they’re going to get paid regardless.
“So you’ve got to be able to get the most out of them and demand it, just by respect. And so when it comes down to it, that’s why I would say he’s a great coach.”
Mayfield, who won the Heisman Trophy last year, is in a bit of a tough spot. Williams will interview for the position as a long-shot candidate, and general manager John Dorsey has a pool of possibilities, so Mayfield can’t lobby too hard for Riley when there’s a good chance someone else will get the job.
Chiefs assistant head coach/special teams coordinator Dave Toub, Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy and recently fired Packers coach Mike McCarthy are among the other expected candidates.
“Obviously, you guys can take it how you want, I have a relationship with Lincoln,” Mayfield said when asked if he wanted Riley. “He’s been great and we had success, but whatever decision is made here I’m going to make the most of if. Obviously there’s been a level of comfortability with him in the past that I’ve had, but whatever happens happens. You can’t control that so I’m not going to worry about it.”
Dorsey scouted the Sooners, including Riley, in person the last two weeks.
“He’s actually really close with the athletic director, Joe Castiglione,” Mayfield said of Dorsey. “I’ve definitely known about it, he’s given me a hard time but he’s gone and there’s been two wins. That’s all I know. Who knows what he’s doing down there.”
Riley said in October after Jackson was fired that he didn’t have “that itch right now” to go to the NFL but didn’t rule it out. On the “Dan Patrick Show” on Monday he was asked if he’s obligated to listen to NFL offers.
“No. No. You know, if I didn’t have a job that I thought was a long-term deal that we could win and be very successful at that is absolutely a destination coaching job, one of the best coaching jobs in the world regardless of sport, I would maybe have a different answer,” Riley said. “But I’m extremely fortunate that I’m in a place, I’m at a place like that right now, and so absolutely I don’t have that obligation.”
Mayfield couldn’t say enough about his former coach.
“Some of those coaches that are so successful, they have the standard and they live by that standard every day. He does it with football, family and he’s just a great human being,” Mayfield said. “He wants the best for everybody and he’s always encouraging. He will wrap his arm around somebody, talk to them and help them out no matter what it is.”