How TCU OC Garrett Riley paved his way to the title game: “Who would have thought?”

LOS ANGELES — In the fourth game of the final year of his high school football career, Garrett Riley was kicked out.

There was a controversial call late in Muleshoe’s comeback attempt against Idalou, and the senior official felt that Riley, the Mules’ star quarterback, had used “vulgar language.”

Riley was confused, as were his coaching staff. Here was a clean boy, a guy who would later be named Texas AP Offensive Player of the Year for his division, and now he was jeopardizing his team’s chances of winning a game?

It just didn’t add up.

It wasn’t until the smoke cleared a day later, after Muleshoe’s only loss of the regular season, that staff found out it was actually teammate Lane Wood, the head coach’s nephew, who had wondered out loud “what kind of cow crap exactly.” “Let’s go on with the office.

“My dad had some pretty fierce hard throw yards on Saturday morning,” said Wes Wood, Riley’s teammate and son of head coach David Wood. “Lane did it with Garrett.”

That was about the only reining-in Wood made with Riley, who had unprecedented freedom to control the mules’ offense. Before Riley’s junior year, Wood and his staff took a one-hour trip to Texas Tech, where Mike Leach was performing an offense called the air raid. One of Leach’s student assistants was another former muleshoe quarterback named Lincoln Riley, who helped teach his old coaches the system.

You know how the rest of the story ends when it comes to Leach and the air raid. And you certainly know what became of Lincoln Riley.

But Garrett Riley, the 33-year-old Broyles Award winner? (Seven years after big brother won it.) The guy who guided a written-off quarterback to second place in this year’s Heisman Trophy vote? (Where he lost to big brother’s quarterback.) The guy who became the first Riley to make a national title game? (In big brother’s backyard.)

Yes, this story also begins in Muleshoe. But from there it took an entirely different path en route to SoFi Stadium for college football’s biggest stage, where No. 3 TCU will play No. 1 Georgia for the national championship on Monday night.

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McNeill recommended Shannon Dawson, the offensive coordinator at Division III Millsaps in Mississippi.

“I worked for Lou Holtz at Notre Dame, and one of the things about Lou is you break things down to the lowest common denominator to make it easy,” Harper said. “When Shannon was interviewing, he said you have to have the ability to be bored. And when we went back to my office, I said, ‘Tell me what you mean by that.’ And he went into detail. I said, ‘I’ll pay you for everything. The bottom line is that I’ll hold you to it. I’ll hold you tight: you must have the capacity for boredom.’ Because most coaches don’t have that. Most coaches cannot get bored.”

The Lumberjacks won the Southland Conference title in Dawson’s sophomore year. Riley came on board in Dawson’s third year, and while he only played sparingly behind starter Jeremy Moses (now an assistant at Colorado State), his influence on the space and system was evident, with Harper saying both players were instrumental in the Compilation of the game were involved game schedule each week. (SFA repeated as conference master.)

Riley returned to Lubbock and coached at the local Roosevelt High for a year before applying blindly and getting a job coaching running backs at Division III Augustana College in Illinois, a private Lutheran school near the Iowa border. Then-quarterback coach Zac Connors recalls looking over Riley’s resume and thinking the Vikings could use an Air Raid protege, even though it seemed like a square peg for the round hole of an offense running the program.

“Then you call him and you get to know him and it’s the easiest conversation you’ve ever had in your life,” Connors said. “I mean, he’s just so laid back. He has this deep Texan accent and some of the phrases and sayings he would have would have you laughing out loud. And so I remember at least the interview process was like, it’s going to bring up some really cool offensive ideas, and it’s going to bring up something that’s culturally so very different from this area of ​​Chicago.”

Connors likes to refer to Augustana’s offense as “multiple”. Riley laughed as he shared this and said it was basically a three-way offense.

However it was branded — for the record, the program ran more yards (1,630) than it passed (1,495) — it was effective as Augustana won four of its last five games and finished 5-5 after a 2-8 debut campaign under head coach Rob Cushman.

“You could see that he was going to be successful,” said Aaron Call, a part-time assistant at the school. “He pretty much wanted to cut his teeth and do it his way without too much help. I’m sure coming straight from Texas Tech, I think part of that was that offense. Our head coach wanted someone who had been involved in it.”

Riley and Connors bonded that year, the Texan from the Leach Tree bonded with Connors, an Andy Ludwig student well versed in West Coast offensive principles. They mainly talked about two things: Vertical Passing and Red Dirt Country Music.

A Bay Area native, Connors was more associated with the Seattle grunge scene and 2Pac. Riley accused him of not being cultured enough. And since words wouldn’t do the genre justice, the newcomer burned a CD for his colleague, featuring hits from Whiskey Myers, the Randy Rogers Band, the Josh Abbott Band, Cross Canadian Ragweed and several country artists Connors had never heard of would have.

After a few songs, Connors was hooked.

“I’ll also say this: He probably helped me with my transition going down and coaching Texas high school football,” said Connors, who is now a private QB coach. “I was able to bond with those collaborators a little bit better because I had already developed an affinity for their music.”

On the field, the influence went beyond simple passing concepts.

Sam Frasco, then a freshman quarterback who befriended Connors and Riley, says of the coaches’ mantra, “Just keep calm. be in the moment If your time is up, don’t be shy. Make full use of it.”

Asked Saturday about a lesson he learned from Riley, Max Duggan offered a similar takeaway:

“Just the mindset of not being afraid to make a game,” the TCU quarterback said. “He’s done football so much and obviously in a schematic way, but I think the mindset of being brave and aggressive and not afraid to make a game is something that he really preached to us in the quarterback room and to us as an offense has. which has helped us get to this point.”

Riley only lasted a year at Augustana. He joined his brother in East Carolina in 2013 and then forged his own path, coaching every offensive position except the offensive line through stations in Kansas, Appalachian State and SMU.

David Wood gave Riley the green light during his last two years at Muleshoe and equated the philosophy with backyard football:

Trust your staff. If you see a weakness, exploit it.

It sounds a lot like work for Sonny Dykes at TCU.

“The great thing about working with him is that he trusts his coaches,” Riley said. “The most important thing you can ask of an assistant coach is that your head coach really trusts you to do your job. He allowed us to do that. And I really appreciate that about Sonny, because I know it’s not like that everywhere. That’s hard to do. But that was great for us, to have that freedom and not have to worry about it.”

Wood’s son Wes took that credo to heart as a player. He looked up to Lincoln, who was six years his senior but befriended Garrett at Summer Bible School as a teenager. He switched to receiver during Riley’s senior year before succeeding him as Muleshoe’s quarterback a year later.

It was Wes, not one of the Rileys, who led the Mules to their first state title.

“I wore a #12, I still wear a #12 on my necklace, and it’s all because of Lincoln,” said Wes Wood, now the head coach and athletic director at Snyder High in West Texas. “It wasn’t because of Tom Brady, it was Lincoln. And to see what he did, and then (coach) the Heismans, and then suddenly you have a year like this.

“Lincoln was so cool, right? But Garrett was literally one of my guys, my boys, my brothers. I mean, 15 years ago, me and this guy sat in my cousin’s Jeep, flew down this sloppy road, drove up these sloppy pits. Who would have thought?”

Watching the Heisman ceremony from his couch last month, David Wood turned to his wife, Jody, and asked the same question.

“If you go 1st and 2nd at the Heisman and both win the Broyles, what are the odds?” David says. “It is a good feeling. You know you’ve done something worthwhile when the town of Muleshoe can produce children like this. It’s just pretty neat.”

(Photo: Matthew Visinsky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

https://theathletic.com/4067447/2023/01/07/garrett-riley-tcu-football/ How TCU OC Garrett Riley paved his way to the title game: “Who would have thought?”

Russell Falcon

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