Oklahoma coaching search: Mario Cristobal, Josh Heupel, Brent Venables top candidates to replace Lincoln Riley

Oklahoma is going to be fine. Don’t take my word for it. Tell it to a freaking out Sooner Nation. Lincoln Riley bolted on Sunday, leaving one of the jewel coaching jobs in the country for another in USC.

That’s why OU athletic director Joe Castiglione is likely going to have a talented group of finalists compiled by Sunday night. Joe C is great to work for and OU is great to work at. The first order of business is to hire someone who can jump in and re-recruit quarterback Caleb Williams while completing the 2022 recruiting class.

That would suggest someone young and accomplished, preferably a sitting head coach.

Here are the best fits for the Sooners, which went from College Football Playoff contenders to top-two job in the coaching carousel in a span of less than 24 hours.

Josh Heupel, Tennessee coach: Knoxville would melt down if Heupel pulled a Lane Kiffin and left after one season, but Heupel is still beloved in Norman, having quarterbacked the last Oklahoma national championship team in 2000. He cut his coaching teeth as the Sooners’ offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach helping develop Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford. However, Heupel was eventually fired by Bob Stoops in 2014 and replaced by Riley. There is believed to be some bad blood stemming from that move, and given Stoops is serving as interim coach, that could be a hiccup. That firing set Heupel on his course to UCF where he succeeded before eventually making it to the SEC and suddenly becoming a hot commodity again. The Volunteers went 4-4 in SEC play this year, but all of their losses were to teams ranked at the time of kickoff.

Brent Venables, Clemson defensive coordinator: You’ve read Venables’ name in this space before, but this might be the one job that could…

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