Lincoln Riley on Pat Narduzzi’s tampering accusations: I take it personally

LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 29, 2022 - - USC Head Coach Lincoln Riley is interviewed.

USC coach Lincoln Riley speaks during Pac-12 Media Day at L.A. Live on Friday afternoon. Riley says he “absolutely” took it personally when Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi accused him of tampering. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Three months after a fellow coach accused him of tampering with the top wideout in college football, Lincoln Riley finally got the chance to publicly defend himself against those allegations Friday.

In his first Pac-12 media day as USC’s coach, Riley wrote off allegations that the Trojans tampered with Biletnikoff Award winner Jordan Addison, offering an impassioned defense of his own integrity when asked about claims levied by Pittsburgh’s Pat Narduzzi last April.

“When someone challenges that with no facts and only emotion, do you take it personally? Absolutely you do,” Riley said. “I understand this is an emotional time. It’s an emotional game with a lot of emotional people. We recruited Jordan just like we did every other transfer. Jordan got in the transfer portal. Jordan came on a visit to USC. Despite all the negative things that were put out magically by somebody, he’s a kid that’s all about ball.”

An ESPN report claimed Narduzzi called Riley several times in late April to express his displeasure with the coach, whom he believed was recruiting Addison to join USC before the wideout officially entered the NCAA transfer portal May 3.

The accusations followed Addison, amid swirling rumors about multimillion-dollar NIL deals awaiting the wideout at USC. Addison visited both Texas and USC and committed to the Trojans on May 19, as many expected.

“All he wanted to do his entire visit was talk ball,” Riley said. “We literally missed several of the meals and entertainment we had scheduled just so we could watch more film and talk more ball. That’s all he’s about. I think he’s been really, really misrepresented throughout this whole thing.”

Many suspected his arrival came with a promised payday attached. But USC quarterback Caleb Williams, another transfer whose arrival inspired his own share of wild NIL rumors, joined his coach Friday in fervently denying that was the case with Addison, with whom he already had a relationship by virtue of their upbringing in the D.C. area.

The two even joked about Addison’s rumored $3 million payday.

“It wasn’t about NIL for Jordan,” Williams said. “That was one of the biggest things. People thought it was about NIL. Guys on the inside knew that it wasn’t. Jordan wants to win. Jordan wants to be the best receiver — no offense to any other school.”

Williams did acknowledge being in Addison’s ear throughout the process, trying to convince him to join USC.

He wasn’t the only one.

“It was like 15 of my teammates that I had text Jordan,” Williams said. “I was like, ‘Guys we’re going to need him to go win some big games.’ That’s how important Jordan was.”

Important enough to warrant a reference from Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff, who refused to mention any USC players by name but pointed to the arrival of college football’s top receiver as a sign of vitality for the conference.

That arrival stirred more controversy than confidence during the spring. But as USC looks ahead, it’s already clear how much of an impact Addison could make on an entirely rebuilt Trojans offense.

Williams called him “the fastest receiver on the team.” Riley called him “a proven playmaker.”

Linebacker Shane Lee had even more effusive praise.

“I’ve been around great receivers,” Lee said. “He’s great.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.