Red River Rivalry
See special coverage of OU-Texas in today’s sports section.
Lincoln Riley stood at the podium Monday, less than 48 hours after the first loss of his head coaching career and the worst upset in his program's history.
He answered every question with his familiar even keel, his standard unflappability — until he was asked about how the hours after the loss to Iowa State were for him personally. The Oklahoma coach averted his eyes, nodded his head and paused for a couple seconds.
"It sucked," he said finally.
He then looked away. Losing is always tough, but that moment shows just how much it eats at a head coach. There's regret and frustration, anger and disappointment.
And if Riley thought the struggle was real last week, it will only be compounded if the Sooners lose again this week.
In a rivalry game where the importance runs somewhere between extremely high and off the charts, both OU and Texas have new head coaches. Neither Riley nor Tom Herman has even reached the halfway point of their first seasons -- but both face high stakes.
A Texas loss will further sour what has
been a season with more struggles than many burnt orange bloods expected. Early losses to Maryland and USC. Recent close calls against Iowa State and Kansas State. Many in Horn Nation hoped for better returns in Herman's first year, though the vibe has improved in recent weeks.
"Our demeanor and our attitude is headed in the right direction," Herman said. "We're not a finished product yet — don't know that we ever will be this year — but we are headed in the right direction."
That outlook would only improve with a win in the Red River Rivalry.
And considering Texas has fired coaches in large part because of their struggles against OU (see, Mack Brown), winning this game is never a bad idea for the Longhorn coach.
When it comes to Riley, though, winning this game is almost a must. I'm not suggesting he needs to win it to keep his job or anything — I'm going to guess Lincoln Riley will be the Sooner coach for many years to come — but lose, and the torrents of hellfire and brimstone that will start falling on his head won't be any fun.
The reason is losing to Iowa State.
Win that game, and the Red River Rivalry has the normal levels of pressure. But now? Beating Texas isn't just important because it's Texas but because this is the first step toward making that loss to Iowa State an outlier. Win this week, and last week starts to look like the exception to the rule. Leave the State Fair of Texas with a victory, and it dulls the pain of walking off the Owen Field turf amid a Cyclone celebration.
But a loss to Texas is bad news not only in the court of public opinion but also in the Sooner locker room. Start piling up losses, and fans won't be the only ones who start doubting.
Lincoln Riley gets that. Of course he does. He's a smart guy, and he's keenly aware of the magnitude of the job that he's been given. He's been asked to add to a legacy of one of the sport's premier programs. Build on the success. Carry on the tradition.
It's a weighty proposition.
The wide-ranging emotions that accompany that bubbled up when Riley was asked earlier this week how he handled that loss to Iowa State.
"You aren't going to win them all; we get that," he acknowledged a few days later. "But when we're not at our best, that's what is disappointing. Regardless of who we're playing and where we're playing and what the situation is, we want to be at our absolute best. We weren't during that game.
"That's the thing I was most disappointed with."
A victory in the Red River Rivalry might not solve every problem, but neither Lincoln Riley nor Tom Herman is interested in finding out what problems come with a defeat. Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at (405) 475-4125 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Like her at facebook.com/ JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.
Like his counterpart at Texas, Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley faces high stakes Saturday in the Red River Rivalry. But a week after a stunning loss to Iowa State, Riley could use a win much more than Tom Herman.
Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley said earlier this week that his emotions after losing to Iowa State were largely based on his disappointment about the poor performance. A win against Texas would go a long way to soothing those feelings.