NORMAN — Caitlin Riley’s introduction to Oklahoma’s passionate fan base wasn’t a kind one.
In 2008, she traveled to Norman to watch her husband, Lincoln Riley, work as a Texas Tech assistant coach. And when she left following the 65-21 loss to the Sooners, she probably didn’t want to hear a certain song again.
“My first experience at Oklahoma — I can say this now because I’m on the other side — but I said I would never go back there. It was the ‘Jump Around’ game. We were at Tech and that was the first time I’d ever come to a game at Oklahoma,” Caitlin Riley said. “I just remember thinking ‘Oh my goodness, I’ve never seen anything like it.’ The wives all traveled to that game and everybody just stopped and looked at each other in shock. I remember thinking ‘I don’t ever want to go back to a game there. It’s crazy.’
“Now, on this side, I love it,” she added with a laugh. “It’s much more fun to be with the home team. But that was my first taste of the passion of the Oklahoma fan.
“I like this side much better.”
Caitlin Riley became the first lady of Oklahoma’s football program when Lincoln Riley was named head coach on June 7.
“She’s the mom of the team,” OU quarterback Baker Mayfield said. “How she handles herself with the two daughters (Sloan and Stella), it shows enough to us. They are so big on family and it’s a great mindset to have, especially for a program like this. You have to take care of family first. Yeah, it’s a little bit of a bigger family to have, but it’s a great mindset to have.”
Lincoln Riley found his perfect mate when the two began dating in high school. One example: Caitlin Riley grew up a football fan and a sports nut. Her grandfather was a successful basketball coach. She played basketball in high school and also ran track and cross country.
He attended Muleshoe High School in west Texas and her home was in Dimmit, about a 45-minute drive. From their first date of dinner (Olive Garden) and a movie (“Sweet Home Alabama”) through their July 14, 2007, wedding, both knew football would be a major part of their future lives.
College football coaches live nomadic lives. The Rileys have called Lubbock (seven years), Greenville, North Carolina (five), and Norman (three) home.
Caitlin Riley’s future parenting skills got a test run at Texas Tech, when she was assistant coach Dana Holgorsen’s nanny.
“She took care of my kids for three years. I knew she was going to be a great mom. My kids were in their wedding,” said Holgorsen, now the West Virginia head coach. “My kids meant a lot to them and they meant a lot to my kids. It’s kind of what stinks in this profession. You go in separate directions and you lose touch. It happens. But I’ll always remember what they did for me.”
Now that she’s a surrogate mom for 100-plus football players, her goal is to get to build relationships with them.
“We’ve always felt it was always important for players to get to know us on a personal level,” she said. “They know Lincoln as a father and a husband and me as a mom and a wife, not just a coach’s wife. We’ll have them come over for dinner. That’s my favorite thing. The football is fun, exciting and what we love, but the relationships and getting to know the boys and their families on a personal level, that’s my favorite part.”
There will be good days and bad days for Oklahoma football. On those bad days, how will she help her husband through those?
“I know what he does and how hard he works. I know his demeanor, his intentions and what he stands for,” Caitlin Riley said. “You have to be confident in who you are and what you know and what you do.
“I travel and try to go to all the games. It’s fun to be there when we win, but I think it’s more important if we’ve had a loss, to look at Lincoln and the players and let them know I believe in them and support them.”
Lincoln Riley is thankful for the support from his wife of 10 years.
“She’s definitely the rock of our family,” the OU coach said. “So much has been put on her. She’s kind of been there with me from the start. She’s done an incredible job of raising our two girls. Just creating a home for us … I really can’t imagine doing that without her.
“She grew up in a sports family. She knows the game. She gets it. She’s got good perspective on a lot of it.”
Being the wife of a head coach will continue to be a learning process for her. And she’ll have mentors for her new role.
When the Rileys arrived in January 2015, Carol Stoops welcomed her with open arms. Bob Stoops’ wife continues to stay in contact with Caitlin Riley. Erlene McNeill — wife of assistant head coach Ruffin McNeill — has a great relationship with her going back over a decade.
The family’s new ride will begin in less than a month when OU hosts UTEP on Sept. 2. Will Caitlin Riley be as anxious as her husband to see his head coaching career begin?
“Yes, I can’t wait. I’m ready,” she said. “If Lincoln saw me in the stands during the game, he’d probably have a heart attack because I am nervous until kickoff. Once it kicks off, I’m good to go. But the day of the game, I’ve got butterflies and jitters.
“But I’m excited to see what’s going to happen.”