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CLEVELAND, Ohio — Baker Mayfield remains extremely close to Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley and has told cleveland.com they’ll be friends for life. But he was noncommittal Wednesday when asked if he’ll lobby for him to be the next coach of the Browns.
“I love Linc, but we have what we have,’’ said Mayfield. “He’s doing his thing and I’m doing mine. Not worried about that. Coach (Gregg) Williams is our head guy now, Freddie (Kitchens) is our offensive coordinator and we need to roll with that. We need to believe in that. We have the team that’s capable of winning in this locker room. Have to trust that.”
But Mayfield believes Riley’s style would translate to the NFL.
“All coaches are different,’’ he said. “You have your guys like Gregg Williams that are fiery leaders, and you have your guys that do not talk as much – and Lincoln is one of those guys. What it comes down to is the players trusting the coach and who’s in charge. They have to believe in that. Without question, they have to follow. I think his style would work, but that’s just because of who he is. He’s smart. He gets his guys to believe in him. That’s what it is. So does Gregg.”
During Riley’s Monday press conference, shortly after Hue Jackson was fired, he was asked if he’d be interested in the Browns’ vacancy.
“No, not right now,” he said. “You sit here and answer these questions and I always want to be truthful. The truth is for me is I love Oklahoma. I love coaching here, I love college football. I certainly don’t have that itch right now. I don’t know that I ever will, but I’m never going to be a guy that’s gonna stand up here and say ‘No how, no way will any of these things ever happen.’ I don’t know that. I know right now I couldn’t care less about the NFL.”
One thing is for certain: Mayfield and Riley were very productive working together at Oklahoma, where Mayfield went 33-6, including his first two with Riley as his offensive coordinator and his last year as his head coach. Under Riley’s tutelage, he won the Heisman Trophy, reached the national title semifinals and became the NFL’s No. 1 pick.
“Coach Riley always let me be myself,” Mayfield told cleveland.com last month. “If I wasn’t myself, I wasn’t a passionate person, then I wasn’t playing to my potential and I couldn’t fake it. That’s the great thing about him. He’s adaptable to his players. He puts them in the best position possible. That’s why I think he’s the best coach in the country.”
When Riley had to announce last season that Mayfield wasn’t starting against West Virginia because of a crotch-grabbing gesture towards the Kansas bench, he got choked up.
“No matter how long I go coaching … I don’t know that I’ll ever have a player that’s as special to me as he is,’’ Riley said then. “We’ve been through a lot together. He’s a tremendous teammate. He’s the best football player in America. He has a great heart that a lot of people don’t get a chance to see like I do. I’m proud as hell to be his coach.”
Riley stuck by Mayfield through his ups and downs and his growing pains off the field at Oklahoma.
“He was there at OU even for my first games, so he saw it from the beginning to the very end,” said Mayfield. “He saw the change in me and he invested so much time in it.”
What did the Browns get when they drafted Mayfield?
“They got a lot,” Riley said. “They got a guy that believes in himself. There’s not a situation that he’s not going to be confident and prepared for. A competitor and a guy that’s going to be completely bought in. Not any one person can turn a thing around. It takes a big group but you’ve got to have some people up front and I’m excited for Baker to have this opportunity. I know he’s really excited about it.
“There will be ups, there will be downs, but he’ll continue to get better and I know he’ll continue to bring that fire and that edge to that organization just like he brought to our program. … Anytime you go through stuff like with somebody for that long a period of time, that’s going to make the relationship even more close.”
Question is, will they be reunited here one day?