What Lincoln Riley’s ban of a USC beat writer reveals and echoes

What Lincoln Riley’s ban of a USC beat writer reveals and echoes

Roundtable: My Sellout Crowd colleagues Jenni Carlson and Guerin Emig join me to weigh in on the former OU coach's two-week suspense of an Orange County Register reporter.

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

| Sep 20, 2023, 1:00pm CDT

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

Sep 20, 2023, 1:00pm CDT

Southern Cal football coach Lincoln Riley has banned Orange County Register reporter Luca Evans from interviews for two weeks, saying Evans violated the program’s media policies and that Evans wrote an inaccurate story.

Riley had his share of run-ins with the OU football media during his five seasons as the Sooner coach, but nothing that escalated to a ban.

My Sellout Crowd colleagues Jenni Carlson and Guerin Emig joined me in covering the Sooners the duration of Riley’s time in Norman.

Berry: What do we have to say about the latest events in Los Angeles?

Jenni: I wish I could say I’m surprised Lincoln put a two-week ban on a reporter, but that tracks with what we saw during his time in Norman. He never did anything that harsh, though OU did cancel a day of media availability in 2021 after a couple of student reporters watched practice from the upper reaches of the journalism building across the street. But there was always a sense that Lincoln had a very tight grip on media access. Who was allowed to do interviews. Who wasn’t. He absolutely wanted to control the narrative, and really, that’s what he wasn’t able to do with the OC Register reporter. And Riley is throwing around his weight trying to keep anyone else from doing something like this in the future.

Berry: I always liked Lincoln and got along well with him and was mostly mystified when colleagues would complain about his media interactions. For instance, he continued (or expanded) most of Bob Stoops’ existing media policies, which were far more helpful to the press than, say, Mike Gundy’s policies in Stillwater. But Riley looked bad when he threatened to ban the OU Daily after that 2021 incident — the Daily reported that Caleb Williams was taking first-team snaps at quarterback, as if the whole danged state didn’t know that Williams would be QB1 going forward after the Texas game — and Riley looks bad banning Luca Evans. 

Guerin: To me this strikes at something I never understood while Riley was at OU, and still don’t know that he’s making similar mistakes at USC — how a man so smart about so many things can also be so shortsighted about others. His beef with Luca Evans isn’t worth the fallout; he is catching deserved hell from all channels outside his protective USC fan base. It was the same two years ago with the OU Daily. How he doesn’t see that, or doesn’t care enough to see it, is beyond me. It’s like every time he brings up OU and the hard feelings lingering there, something he did as recently as last week. Why go there? What does he gain except backlash? Riley has a Kevin Durant streak in him. He has fashioned an amazing career out of some wonderful jobs. Imagine if he just stayed out of his own way on the journey.

Jenni: Good point, Guerin. This seems to be nothing but negative for Riley. I mean, I suppose there are some USC types who back him no matter what. His athletic director did, for crying out loud. But it makes Lincoln look petty and small. Banning a reporter for two weeks for walking off and talking to a player after the formal scrum? That’s actually what I would call being a good reporter.

Berry: I guess we should chalk this up to should-have-seen-it-coming. I don’t know what the media situation at USC was like in the wilderness decade between Pete Carroll and Riley, but I know Carroll had incredibly open media policies. He was distrustful of visiting-team media — I know first hand, from a visit to Los Angeles before the 2004 national championship game, when not even the USC president could get me into practice — but local reporters and national reporters were welcomed royally. LA, with sophisticated media and tons of other sports options, is not the place to go making enemies.

Guerin: Right. Media here stewed over Riley’s OU Daily threat or his refusal to allow first-year players to interview (see: Caleb Williams, an engaging personality we never got to experience because of his head coach’s stubbornness) … but they kept showing up for press conferences. If Riley angers the Orange County Register, LA Times or any media outlet at his new home, they’re liable to go write more about Chip Kelly and UCLA. Or the Dodgers. Or the Lakers and Clippers. Or the Rams and Chargers. And on the occasion those outlets’ columnists do write about Trojan football, it will be to hammer Riley for his petulance. Another example of a bigger picture Riley doesn’t see enough to suit his smarts. 

Berry: Here’s another potential pitfall for Lincoln. NIL. Name, image, likeness. The traditional media doesn’t have the power it once had, but it still has power, and sending out the message that a school or a coach is limiting a player’s ability to build his brand could be troublesome. Caleb Williams was going to be a marketplace superstar no matter what. But the tight end? The backup safety? The kicker? Those guys need help anywhere they can find it in marketing themselves.

Jenni: Then there’s this: all of us have heard coaches talk for years about raising up young men. Helping them grow. Getting them ready for the next stage in their lives. Riley talked about it from time to time because all coaches do. And yet, Lincoln basically wants to limit when and where his players can talk to a reporter. If your big goal is truly teaching players to be capable adults, shouldn’t you trust them to decide if they want to have a walk-off conversation with a reporter? Shouldn’t you let them, you know, actually be an adult? All that “raising up young men” talk sounds great until it threatens the control these coaches have and desperately want to maintain. 

Guerin: Yep. Coaches will never be comfortable losing control. That means losing power. And coaches had all of the power until NIL, the transfer portal and social media came along. Riley needs to take a deep breath, realize there is a “power trip” element to what he’s done with Luca Evans and reverse course. Lift the two-week suspension. Invite Evans to meet behind closed doors and settle the dispute with a conversation, not a punishment. Then he should take some stock in the self-inflicted damage he’s doing, in general, because of his thin skin. It’s short-circuiting what is otherwise an electrifying six-year start as a head coach. 

 

Share with your crowd
Berry Tramel is a 45-year veteran of Oklahoma journalism, having spent 13 years at the Norman Transcript and 32 years at The Oklahoman. He has been named Oklahoma Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sports Media Association. Born and raised in Norman, Tramel grew up reading four newspapers a day and began his career at age 17. His first assignment was the Lexington-Elmore City high school football game, and he’s enjoyed the journey ever since, having covered NBA Finals and Rose Bowls and everything in between. Tramel and his wife, Tricia, were married in 1980 and live in Norman near their daughter, son-in-law and three granddaughters. Tramel can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at [email protected].

The latest from Sellout Crowd

  • Feb 25, 2024; Stillwater, Okla, USA; Oklahoma State coach John Smith, left, and associate head coach Coleman Scott, right, react on the sidelines at a wrestling match against Iowa in Gallagher Iba Arena . Mandatory Credit: Mitch Alcala-The Oklahoman

    Lessons from Iowa loss: What should OSU’s postseason expectations be?

  • Oklahoma catcher Kinzie Hansen (9) rounds first for a double during an NCAA softball game between Oklahoma (OU) and Liberty on opening day of Oklahoma softball stadium Love's Field in Norman, Okla., on Friday, March 1, 2024.

    Love’s Field, Oklahoma’s new, $47.1 million ‘palace’, got the opening day it deserves

  • Miami infielder Jenna Golembiewski (2) celebrates hitting a home run during an NCAA softball game between the University of Oklahoma (OU) and Miami University on opening day of Oklahoma softball stadium Love's Field in Norman, Okla., on Friday, March 1, 2024.

    Meet Miami (Ohio) slugger Karli Spaid, the answer to an OU trivia question

  • Nov 19, 2022; Norman, Oklahoma, USA; Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy and Oklahoma head coach Brent Venables speak before a game at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Sarah Phipps-USA TODAY Sports

    How Brent Venables and Mike Gundy play the portal game | Mind Games with Guerin Emig

  • Jan 4, 2023; Orlando, Florida, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder center Mike Muscala (33) shoots a three point basket against Orlando Magic center Wendell Carter Jr. (34) during the second quarter at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

    Why the Thunder is bringing back sharp-shooting center Mike Muscala

The latest from Sellout Crowd

  • Feb 25, 2024; Stillwater, Okla, USA; Oklahoma State coach John Smith, left, and associate head coach Coleman Scott, right, react on the sidelines at a wrestling match against Iowa in Gallagher Iba Arena . Mandatory Credit: Mitch Alcala-The Oklahoman

    Lessons from Iowa loss: What should OSU’s postseason expectations be?

  • Oklahoma catcher Kinzie Hansen (9) rounds first for a double during an NCAA softball game between Oklahoma (OU) and Liberty on opening day of Oklahoma softball stadium Love's Field in Norman, Okla., on Friday, March 1, 2024.

    Love’s Field, Oklahoma’s new, $47.1 million ‘palace’, got the opening day it deserves

  • Miami infielder Jenna Golembiewski (2) celebrates hitting a home run during an NCAA softball game between the University of Oklahoma (OU) and Miami University on opening day of Oklahoma softball stadium Love's Field in Norman, Okla., on Friday, March 1, 2024.

    Meet Miami (Ohio) slugger Karli Spaid, the answer to an OU trivia question

  • Nov 19, 2022; Norman, Oklahoma, USA; Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy and Oklahoma head coach Brent Venables speak before a game at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Sarah Phipps-USA TODAY Sports

    How Brent Venables and Mike Gundy play the portal game | Mind Games with Guerin Emig

  • Jan 4, 2023; Orlando, Florida, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder center Mike Muscala (33) shoots a three point basket against Orlando Magic center Wendell Carter Jr. (34) during the second quarter at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

    Why the Thunder is bringing back sharp-shooting center Mike Muscala