Where does Mizzou Football go from here?
ST. LOUIS, MO- In the very short term, the answer to the question in the headline is…..nowhere. The team is now on a bye week before heading for a matchup against Kentucky in Lexington October 7. The longer-term question is much harder to decipher.
You may have heard Head Coach Barry Odom’s fiery defense of his program after the Tigers lost to Auburn 51-14, where he declared, “I’m gonna win here…that’s gonna happen….I’m the man to get it done, with this staff, with this team, with this program.”
The emotional appeal comes as Odom now sits on a coaching record of 1-3 this season and 5-11 for his career as a head coach at his alma mater.
On Saturday night, He referenced the struggles his college coach Larry Smith endured in breaking a long bowl drought in Columbia in 1997, and how Gary Pinkel survived a rough early stretch despite calls for his ouster. He talked about what he had learned by being part of those turnarounds, and how this was another. In an appearance on a teleconference this week, he again referenced the idea that this a turnaround project
But here’s the thing: we’re no longer in the mid-90s or the early 2000s, and Barry Odom isn’t Larry Smith or Gary Pinkel. When Smith got the MU job, he’d already had 17 years of experience as a head coach. Pinkel had 10 years in charge at Toledo after learning from Don James for nearly a quarter century as a player and assistant.
They weren’t going to get run off the job after two seasons. That’s just not how it was done back then. But that was then, this is now. Barry Odom is an accomplished defensive coach with all the heart and fire and passion for the University of Missouri that an alum (full disclosure, I’m an alum) would want. But the jury is clearly still out if he can grow into a successful head coach, if he’s learned enough along the way to make it work. While football has always been a big deal to an athletic department’s bottom line, multiply that pressure by 100, and you’re probably at where we are now, in the world of the SEC. Coaches can get run out of town after two years nowadays, and the Kim Anderson experiment in basketball also doesn’t help his case, even if a third year allowed MU to ultimately get lucky with Cuonzo Martin and the Porter family.
I won’t pretend that I can get into Jim Sterk’s head on this one, except to say that Sterk wasn’t here when Odom was hired, so he’ll have a slightly different calculus when evaluating the future. As we stand right here, I don’t see many wins left on the table barring a stunning “turnaround”.
But that’s not all that will go into it. You can’t make a move without having a reasonable idea of who might be out there to hire. And in this coaching cycle, that figures to be tricky. Just look at what’s happening in Lincoln, Nebraska, where an Athletic Director was just fired, essentially for the failures of the football program to restore past glory. Mike Riley is 17-13 in year three with the Cornhuskers, but suffered a defeat at the hands of Northern Illinois. With Riley’s boss fired, speculation has already turned to who may get Riley’s job. Other jobs that could open: Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Arkansas, Notre Dame, Tennessee, Florida, Kansas, Kansas State and potentially Michigan and UCLA if NFL jobs come calling. Where would Mizzou fall in this pecking order?
When I listened to Odom’s postgame remarks, the “with this staff” part stuck out to me. Assistants have come and gone, either for new opportunities or because of disciplinary issues or philosophical differences. The offense, under the near total control of Josh Heupel, has not found its footing against Power 5 opponents. The “fastball” approach that worked at Oklahoma isn’t working here. Instead, it is putting a gassed defense back on the field all too soon. A quarterback with a Sunday arm in Drew Lock has not grown in his time in Columbia and hasn’t been helped by a ton of dropped passes.
Gary Pinkel’s extreme loyalty to his staff was admirable, and in the world of college football as we know it, very rare. It may be a trait that Barry Odom will not be able to afford if he wants a third season at the helm in Columbia.