Riley, Lanning, DeBoer new Pac-12 coaches in spotlight

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
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LOS ANGELES – Coaching changes in the Pac-12 are a given, but it is rare when it happens to three of the most recognizable programs in the conference.

Such is the case with Southern California, Oregon, and Washington, which have new coaches on the sideline this season. The schools have won five of the last six conference titles.

“It’s interesting and unique. That’s what makes it fun,” Washington offensive lineman Jaxson Kirkland said during the conference’s media day on Friday. “Now we have a whole bunch of different teams and schemes coming around. It will be cool to see everyone getting after each other.”

USC made waves last December when it convinced Lincoln Riley to leave Oklahoma. After Mario Cristobal left Oregon for Miami, the Ducks tabbed Dan Lanning, the defensive coordinator at Georgia.

The most significant upheaval has been at Washington, where Kalen DeBoer is the Huskies’ third coach in four seasons. DeBoer was at Fresno State.

The coaching changes haven’t changed preseason expectations. The media picked Utah to defend its conference title, with Oregon second, USC third and Washington sixth.

Riley faces the most pressure to produce immediately after leading the Sooners to a 55-10 record in five seasons and two appearances in the College Football Playoff. Pressure is routine for Riley, who was 33 when he succeeded Bob Stoops at Oklahoma.

USC was picked by the media to win the Pac-12 South last year, but went 4-8 and fired Clay Helton two games into the season.

“If there’s no pressure, then you probably don’t have the same opportunities others do. You’ve got to see the opportunity. If you do it well, anything is possible,” Riley said. “This is one of those programs and one of those cities. If you do it well, the sky’s the limit.

“You don’t come to USC or Los Angeles to do things small.”

With a huge assist from the transfer portal, Riley was able to rebuild the Trojans for a conference title run this season. Quarterback Caleb Williams also came from Oklahoma, while running back Travis Dye transferred from Oregon and Biletnikoff Award-winning wide receiver Jordan Addison from Pittsburgh.

Williams said he hadn’t noticed much change since Riley moved to the West Coast.

“I think he might wear some flip-flops more often, but other than that, he hasn’t really changed much. He stays him, and that’s what you love about coach,” Williams said.

This is the first head coaching job for Lanning, who was on Georgia’s staff the last four seasons. He admitted that it has been a bit of a whirlwind getting up to speed.

“Certainly, a lot of pieces go into being a head coach. You wear a lot of hats,” he said. “It’s fun piecing together the talent. It’s also about bringing in coaches that are about relationships and development.”

The Ducks, who were 10-4 last season, open against defending national champion Georgia in Atlanta on Sept. 3. They return most of their front seven on defense, including linebacker Noah Sewell, while adding former Auburn quarterback Bo Nix.

“Certainly excited about going back and seeing some familiar faces going there, getting to compete against a mentor and a friend in Kirby Smart,” Lanning said. “I know our players are certainly excited to be on a national stage early and get to play an elite opponent in Georgia. That being said, we’re really focused on right now.”

Washington is DeBoer’s third head coaching job. He was at Sioux Falls for five seasons (2005-09) and won four NAIA national titles before coaching at Fresno State the last two seasons.

DeBoer is well aware of Washington’s upheaval since its last Pac-12 title in 2018 and is trying to make sure the transition to his staff tries to be as seamless as possible. The Huskies were 4-8 last season, but return some talent, along with potential competition at quarterback between Dylan Morris, Sam Huard, and Indiana transfer Michael Penix Jr.

“You got some guys that have had multiple position coaches. If there’s anything that’s been hard, it’s just really understanding that these guys have been through a lot,” DeBoer said. “Simplifying it down, just trying to focus on winning that day is what we are trying to do, worry about the things we can control and make a name for the 2022 team.”

Lane Kiffin staying at Ole Miss with ‘a lot of work left to do’

Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports
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Mississippi coach Lane Kiffin says he has informed school officials he will be staying at Ole Miss, putting an end to speculation that he was the leading candidate to fill the head coaching vacancy at Auburn.

“Same as I said last week: I’m staying here and we have a lot of work left to do,” Kiffin told The Associated Press in a voice message.

Kiffin added he has not signed a contract extension with the school.

The 47-year-old Kiffin is 23-12 in three seasons as Rebels coach. No. 20 Mississippi finished its regular season 8-4, losing four of its last five, including a 24-22 loss to Mississippi State.

Auburn was playing at No. 8 Alabama in the Iron Bowl, and its coaching search figured to heat up soon after its season concluded.

Auburn fired coach Bryan Harsin earlier this month and has gone 2-1 since under interim coach Carnell Williams, the former star running back for the Tigers.

With Kiffin off the market, Auburn is eyeing a former Mississippi coach to be its next coach.

A person familiar with the search told the AP that Auburn is interested in Liberty coach Hugh Freeze. The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because Auburn was not making details of its search public.

Freeze coached at Ole Miss for five seasons before leaving in disgrace in 2017 after the school discovered he used a university cellphone to call an escort service.

He landed at Liberty and has gone 34-14 in four seasons with the Flames.

Nebraska signs Matt Rhule to 8-year deal

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
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After six straight losing seasons and more than 20 years removed from its 1990s heyday, Nebraska is turning to Matt Rhule to rebuild its program and make it competitive in the Big Ten Conference.

Rhule signed an eight-year contract to be the Cornhuskers’ next coach and will be introduced at a news conference, the school announced.

The 47-year-old Rhule quickly turned around downtrodden programs at Temple and Baylor before leaving for the NFL to coach the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers fired him in October after he started his third season with four losses in five games.

“It is a tremendous honor to be chosen to lead the Nebraska football program,” Rhule said in a statement. “When you think of great, tradition-rich programs in college football, Nebraska is right at the top of the list. The fan base is second to none, and I consider it a privilege to have the opportunity to coach in Memorial Stadium on Tom Osborne Field. My family and I are so grateful to become a part of the Husker Family, and we can’t wait to get started.”

Rhule was 11-27 with Carolina and left with about $40 million remaining on the seven-year, guaranteed $62 million contract he signed in 2020. The contract made Rhule the sixth-highest paid coach in the NFL when he signed in 2020, according to Forbes.

Nebraska said it would release details of Rhule’s contract.

“It is a privilege to welcome Coach Matt Rhule, his wife, Julie, and their family to Nebraska,” athletic director Trev Alberts said. “Coach Rhule has created a winning culture throughout his coaching career, and he will provide great leadership for the young men in our football program.

“Matt is detail-oriented, his teams are disciplined and play a physical brand of football. Matt also has the personality and relationship-building skills to build a great staff and excel in recruiting.”

About an hour after Rhule’s hiring was announced, wide receiver Trey Palmer announced on Instagram that he would declare for the NFL draft. Palmer, who transferred from LSU after last season, had three 150-yard games this year and set the Huskers’ single-season record with 1,043 yards.

The Huskers are among eight Football Bowl Subdivision programs with at least 900 wins, and they have won or shared five national championships. The last one came in 1997 under Hall of Fame coach Tom Osborne.

Five coaches have come and gone since then, most recently the quarterback of that ’97 team, Scott Frost.

Alberts fired Frost on Sept. 11 after the Huskers opened 1-2, with losses to Northwestern in Ireland and to Georgia Southern at home. They were 3-6 under interim coach Mickey Joseph and finished the season 4-8 following a 24-17 win at Iowa.

Nebraska was 16-31 in four-plus seasons under Frost, never finishing higher than fifth in the Big Ten West or going to a bowl.

In four seasons at Temple, Rhule coached the Owls to 28 wins. That included 26 from 2014-16. Temple was 10-4 in 2015 and reached the American Athletic Conference’s inaugural championship game. In 2016, Rhule led the Owls to a 10-3 record and an AAC championship. The conference title was the first in 49 seasons for the Temple program, and the Owls reached bowl games in consecutive seasons for the first time in school history.

Rhule was named Baylor’s coach in December 2016 in the wake of an investigation that found the private Baptist university had not responded adequately to allegations of sexual assault by players, resulting in the firing of Art Briles.

Rhule’s trajectory was similar at Baylor, where he went from 1-11 in 2017 to 7-6 with a bowl game the next season. In his third and final season, Baylor was ranked in the top 10, played in the Big 12 championship game and finished 11-3 after a Sugar Bowl loss to Georgia.

Rhule’s collegiate success provided him the opportunity to take over as the Carolina Panthers’ head coach in 2020. He guided the Panthers to five wins in each of his first two seasons before this year’s 1-4 start got him fired.

Rhule has ties to the Big Ten. He moved from New York City to State College, Pennsylvania, as a teenager. He played linebacker at Penn State from 1994-97 and began his coaching there as a volunteer assistant.