Oklahoma Head Coach’s Relationship With Grier Goes Way Back
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Lincoln Riley had an idea of Will Grier’s talent before most others.
Now in his initial season as head coach at Oklahoma, Riley was the offensive coordinator at East Carolina when the Pirates became the first school to offer Grier a scholarship when he was still an underclassmen at Davidson Day School in North Carolina.
Grier’s father, Chad, played for the Pirates and his roots in that program helped nourish the relationship between Will and the ECU staff led by then-head coach Ruffin McNeill, now the defensive tackles coach at Oklahoma. Riley was the offensive coordinator at East Carolina from 2010-14, and got a first-hand look at Grier, a quickly-developing major prep prospect who was slicing his way through defenses for what would eventually be 14,565 passing yards and 195 TDs.
“I know him and his father well,” Riley said. “We were his first Division I offer at East Carolina. We had a great relationship with him there. I have respect for the player he is. Tremendous season.”
The two were scheduled to square off this Saturday before Grier’s hand injury sidelined him for the contest. Still, with the No. 3 Sooners sitting at 10-1 and on the doorstep of not only the Big 12 championship game but a College Football Playoff berth as well, Riley is taking nothing for granted against the Mountaineers.
“Will is a great player, there’s no doubt,” Riley said. “But I also know the coaching staff there at West Virginia and the great players they have there around Will, they will still be productive offensively. They are still a big challenge. Then Tony Gibson and the defense over the last few years as been tremendous within the Big 12. They have a lot of good players and they have a a nice season as well. Two good football teams going at it.”
If that reads like a touch of coach speak, it’s because there’s at least a dash of the element in those statements. The loss of Grier was massive for West Virginia, which is without a player on pace to set new school records for passing yardage and touchdowns. Once back-up Chris Chugunov settled into the Texas game, however, he showed glimpses of being able to move the offense. A full week of first team practice reps will aid in the timing and flow of operations, and should give WVU far more confidence that it had when Grier was initially injured.
That isn’t likely to be enough against an Oklahoma team averaging a Big 12-best 44 points per game with a whopping 588.7 yards per contest, tops in the country.The Sooners allow 25 points per game, four fewer than West Virginia.
“Just win. You win and all that stuff takes care of itself,” Riley said of remaining in the CFP race. “We have a really good West Virginia team coming to town. We know that. It’s our Senior Night, the last time a lot of these guys are going to play. We have plenty of things to stay focused on this week.”
Note: Riley chose not to start quarterback Baker Mayfield after the senior made an obscene gesture and yelled at the Kansas sideline during the contest after the Jayhawks refused to shake Mayfield’s hand during the pregame coin flip.
“I saw it live,” Riley said of the situation. “The game was going to be pretty heated from there and I alerted the officials right after it happened that they better be aware of it and keep the game under control. That was a lightening rod that stirred the emotions of both teams and led to a chippy game.
“There’s a balance,” he added of Mayfield’s passion and at times emotional displays. “It’s not difficult. You love the fire and want him to have the fire. His competitive nature (is great). But at the same time he has to know where the line is and make sure he doesn’t cross it.”