Lincoln Riley has been no stranger to NFL speculation throughout his coaching career. Almost like clockwork, the NFL rumors creep into the conversation as the regular season winds down. In 2023, with USC stumbling to the finish line, that speculation was strong.

Riley was heavily criticized from all corners of the college football media. Paul Finebaum notably told him to pack up and run to the NFL. B/R’s Jordan Schultz reported that Riley was a popular name at the NFL owners meetings in Dallas in December.

But while other coaches throughout college football are giving up their leading positions to take assistant jobs or jump to the NFL, Riley remains resolute in Los Angeles.

“I want to get it right here,” Riley said Thursday when he met with local reporters. “I really do. I want it really bad.”

As he enters his third season in charge of the Trojans’ program, Riley is steering the ship through a period of significant transition. He fired longtime defensive coordinator (and friend) Alex Grinch last fall. In replacing Grinch, Riley has stockpiled a defensive staff loaded with experience and talent.

He said USC settled on seven names they wanted to add to their defensive staff. They got four of the seven.

Related: Sports betting in North Carolina is set to launch soon! Here’s everything fans need to know about how to sign-up ahead of March 11.

The moves need to pay off. With a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback heading to the NFL, USC’s offense likely won’t be the same in 2024. Riley needs the defense to make up some ground.

He needs to get it right.

“Not for me, I just want it really bad for this program. I want it really bad for the current team, the former players, the former coaches, the fans, the university,” he said. “That’s why we left everything that we left. We want it really, really bad here.”

Riley’s crosstown peer, Chip Kelly, recently left his position as the Bruins’ head coach to take the offensive coordinator position at Ohio State.

Boston College head coach Jeff Hafley left his post to become a defensive coordinator in the NFL. Jim Harbaugh left Michigan after a national title to take an NFL job. Multiple head coaches at the G5 level have left for assistant positions in the SEC this offseason.

On their own, there’s context to explain away every move. Taken together, they paint a picture of a college head coaching job that is quickly losing some of its appeal.

Issues with NIL and the transfer portal have been at the forefront of college football in recent months.

For Riley, those issues aren’t enough to push him out.

“Certainly, there are some things with college football that need to get right, not just for coaches. It’s certainly my hope that some of those things can get corrected to continue to make the job of everybody involved with college football … a little more manageable,” he said. “There are certainly some challenges there, but for me it’s not to the point where I’m like, ‘The heck with college football.’

“We still have a tremendous product. The game is still tremendous. There’s a lot of things that are very fixable that hopefully can happen. I’m at the place I want to be.”