College Football’s ‘Great Man Theory’ Gets a New Test at U.S.C.

“Lincoln is the rarest combination of extraordinary person and elite football coach,” Mike Bohn, U.S.C.’s athletic director, said. “His successes and offensive accolades as a head coach the past five years are astonishing. Lincoln will recruit relentlessly, develop his players on and off the field, and implement a strong culture in which the program will operate with the highest level of integrity and professionalism.”

Despite the myriad messes, disasters, indignities and misfires that have befallen U.S.C. since its last protracted turn of unquestioned relevance in the early 2000s, there were no pleas for patience, no words of caution.

“This is for our current players, our former players, our alumni, our fans, and our entire university community,” Bohn said. “Our time is now.”

Possibly. But Bohn’s move, and Riley’s, is not without risks; there are perils to turning a school into a site to test the great man notion.

Oklahoma is enduring that, and swallowing hard, now. The deifying worked well enough when Stoops, a self-described “program guy,” ruled Norman. (The irony seemed lost on Oklahoma when, in the same statement in which its leaders repeatedly declared that the football program’s success was not concentrated in a single person, it said Stoops would return and coach the Sooners in their bowl game.)

But the departure of Riley, who, even as the head coach, was still calling plays for Oklahoma, provoked a recruiting bloodletting. The sterling quarterback prospect Malachi Nelson, for instance, pulled back from his commitment to Oklahoma, which he had decided to attend, he said, because of “the stability in the coaching staff.” Other top recruits also promptly fled, and the transfer portal could easily warp parts of Oklahoma’s existing roster.

The Sooners will be aggressive in their search. They must be because they are not alone.

Louisiana, which lost Billy Napier to Florida, is looking for someone to lead it in the resurgent Sun Belt Conference. Virginia Tech is still headhunting. So is Duke.

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