The story of Lincoln Riley’s big rise starts in little Muleshoe, Texas

MULESHOE, Texas – Speaking on the phone Friday morning, new USC football manager Lincoln Riley is discussing his Los Angeles adaptation so far and laughs when asked about his current life arrangement.

“Yes, hotel right now,” he says. “…. It was hectic. I’ll be excited that the dust will settle down a bit where we can get to know this place and obviously find a place to live and really settle down as community members.”

Just days after starting his tenure as a Trojan, Riley was already on his way to recruit, with stops from Las Vegas to Georgia to Texas. He returned to Los Angeles last Sunday for a large campus recruiting event and this week worked to settle into the new environment and meet his team.

“We were very out of state the first week trying to do all that recruiting. This week has been mostly here locally, obviously doing some recruiting, but spending a lot of time here on the facility, especially with the players. current, “he says. “It was important to be able to get in touch with them, spend some time with them, start evaluating the roster.”

It’s been two weeks since Riley shocked the college football world – and even those who have known him all his life – leaving Oklahoma after posting a record 55-10, four Big 12 leagues, three College Football appearances. Playoffs and two Heisman Trophy winners in five seasons as head coach, to take on the task of rebuilding USC football.

It was not only surprising that one of the profession’s most respected rising stars left a blue blood program for another, but that he did so for Los Angeles, having spent most of his life and career relatively close to. home – and decidedly different settings – in West Texas and Oklahoma.

As Riley noted, she still hasn’t had much time to orient herself in Los Angeles, especially considering the conversations with USC about hiring the job happened quickly and without an in-person visit to campus.

“The campus is different than I imagined, in a positive way. The campus is great. I had this idea in mind that the Colosseum was going to be very off-campus and it isn’t. Just a few things that maybe you thought about because it’s in a big city and really the feeling here on campus and around isn’t that – it’s a great little community, “says Riley. “I’d just say that as much as I obviously felt like taking this job and accepting it, I’d say everything I’ve seen up to this point confirms it or even makes me feel stronger about it. It’s the right place.”

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Outside of USC and Oklahoma fans, who reacted to Riley’s move to the West Coast with completely different but equally intense feelings, the news probably created the most hype within a small West Texas town right on the edge. of New Mexico, who raised Riley and took him down this path in the first place.

Muleshoe, Texas is a city of just over 5,000 people with a traffic light and vast farmland surrounding it on all sides. Dairy, cotton and other agricultural industries drive the local economy, which like many cities across the country has been hit by the pandemic and the resulting small business toll.

As its proud citizens will say, though, Muleshoe is a close-knit, mutually supportive community that has a strong investment in its school system and the growth of its next generation … and that cares deeply about football.

So, yes, in this small town 85 miles southwest of Amarillo and 68 miles northwest of Lubbock, hiring a USC coach was a big deal.

“There were a lot of conversations, a lot of conversations,” says Stacy Conner, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Muleshoe. “… We had dinner with friends [that] Sunday night and that was the first thing that came out – ‘Did you all see?’ “

“It came as a shock to us,” says Alice Liles, who was Riley’s English teacher in her 11th year of high school at Muleshoe High School.

But not the way it was in Norman, Okla. No, Muleshoe will always feel a strong attachment to Riley, because no matter how far geographically she moves away from her roots, there is a deeper connection shared by both the town and her most famous native son who has always transcended allegiance to college football. .

“A lot of people will tell you we’re fans of our school and wherever Lincoln is, so come over to Leal’s next fall [Mexican restaurant] you may see some USC shirts that you have never seen before. It wouldn’t surprise me at all, “says Conner.

Speaking on the phone Friday with a reporter who had gone to Muleshoe, Riley said, “Tell everyone I said hello.”

He may not return as often as before, since his parents Mike and Marilyn have moved to Lubbock and his grandparents have died in recent years, but wherever Riley’s career has taken him, his story cannot really be told without. start here.

“I used to go back a couple of times a year … I probably won’t go back like I used to without family ties, but of course it will always be home,” he says.

Before the call ends, as Riley has to get back to work Friday preparing for a crucial weekend hosting recruits just days before the early signing period, he’s asked if he has any advice for a first-time visitor.

“Definitely go eat at Leal’s, don’t miss it,” he says.

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