ST. LOUIS – The University of Missouri fired head coach Barry Odom Saturday morning after four seasons at the helm of the Tiger program, where he compiled a 25-25 record in charge at his alma mater.
Missouri just completed a disappointing 6-6 campaign in 2019, which began with observers thinking a 10-2 record was possible.
Odom had what was seen as an easy schedule, scored a recruiting coup with Kelly Bryant’s transfer from Clemson to take over at quarterback for Drew Lock, and had an NFL-caliber tight end in Albert Okwuegbunam, among other key returning players.
Instead, the Tigers lost the season opener at Wyoming and later lost five straight, as Bryant played through knee and hamstring injuries.
Okwuegbunam struggled to stay on the field. Receiver Johnathan Johnson missed three games in a year that could have seen him become the program’s all-time leader in receiving yards. Linebacker Cale Garrett’s torn pectoral muscle ended his senior year midway through the season.
The final punch came just days before the season finale against Arkansas when the NCAA denied Missouri’s appeal of sanctions imposed after the school reported a tutor and student-athletes in several sports were involved in academic fraud. The ruling upheld a postseason bowl ban first announced in January and also reaffirmed recruiting restrictions and scholarship penalties.
Odom deserves credit for building a positive culture in his program. In the face of the NCAA sanctions, seniors could have transferred with the ability to play immediately. None did. Winning the finale, even against a depleted Arkansas program playing out the string, when his players had just found out they wouldn't play in a bowl game, is to his credit.
While historically Missouri has not been a program which fires coaches who win six games in a season, Sterk just decided Odom was not the person who could build and maintain a top 25 program.
Odom was hired in a turbulent period. The MU campus was embroiled in protests in the fall of 2015 tied in part to the racial climate there. Those protests reached the football program, which briefly boycotted in support of a student who was on a hunger strike. The system president would soon resign; the campus chancellor in Columbia stepped down amid a power struggle. Gary Pinkel would then announce his retirement at season's end after acknowledging a cancer diagnosis.
In stepped Odom, a Tiger fixture since his playing days under Larry Smith, and later as a Pinkel assistant. He certainly knew the terrain in Columbia, but he was doing it now as a college head coach for the first time. He went 4-8 in his first season but followed that with back-to-back bowl appearances in years 2 and 3, becoming just the fourth MU coach to do so in two of his first three seasons. While Odom inherited Drew Lock on offense and key players like Charles Harris and Terry Beckner, Jr. on defense, he also faced recruiting challenges. When Missouri moved from the Big 12 to the SEC, Pinkel moved recruiting resources more heavily into areas like Florida, Tennessee, and Georgia, relying less on Texas and Oklahoma, where MU had unearthed many of the gems which helped Pinkel reach Big 12 championship games and later SEC title games in 2013 and 2014. Odom's staff reopened those pipelines.
At the same time, in-state recruiting also had challenges. Odom's staff targeted 10 players in the state's class of 2018, seen as one of the best in Missouri's history. Only one ended up committing to play in Columbia. While Odom managed to get Division I talent from the state and metro KC and St. Louis, he was unable to land the kind of players who also had offers from the likes of Ohio State, Oklahoma, and Notre Dame. It's part of the reason Odom only had one win against a ranked opponent in four seasons.
Jim Sterk now gets to hire his first head football coach at the University of Missouri. We have no idea who might be on the short list of candidates every AD keeps when it comes to football and basketball coaches. Here are five possibilities:
- Mike Norvell: The Memphis coach would be an attractive candidate, but is also likely involved in searches at Arkansas and Florida State, which got a head start on the entire coaching carousel by making in-season changes and will likely have deeper pockets.
- Mike Leach: The Washington State coach would be interesting. He would also be expensive, but his offense would score points and the former Texas Tech head coach would keep lines of communication open with high school recruits and potentially open up the West Coast.
- Sonny Dykes: He interviewed for the job when Odom was hired. Dykes was at California at the time, was fired, and has since landed at SMU, where he'll take the Mustangs to a bowl game in his second season there. He's a former Louisiana Tech coach who has history in the SEC recruiting footprint.
- Willie Fritz: He's is in his fourth season at Tulane, where he has the Green Wave bowl-eligible for the second straight year. His first head coaching job was at Central Missouri, where he went 97-47 in 13 seasons before later moving on to Sam Houston State and Georgia Southern.
- Bronco Mendenhall: The Virginia head coach bears watching, thanks to some important relationships. Sterk has strong ties to the Bennett family, having hired Dick as basketball coach at Washington State, and then his son Tony to succeed him. Tony Bennett later left for Virginia, where he and Mendenhall have worked together in the Cavalier athletic department since Mendenhall arrived in 2016 from BYU. Mendenhall has Virginia bowl eligible for the third time in his four seasons in Charlottesville. He could be perfectly happy in the ACC, especially in the Coastal Division where he doesn't have to worry about Clemson annually. But an endorsement from the Bennetts would go a long way. Mendenhall also worked at New Mexico as Defensive Coordinator under Rocky Long, who Sterk later promoted to Head Coach while at San Diego State.
Whoever is hired won't need black and gold-colored glasses to see a path back to bowl eligibility next season. The Tigers host Central Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Eastern Michigan, Louisiana, Kentucky, and Georgia at home. They go on the road to face Tennessee, BYU, South Carolina, Mississippi State, and Florida, closing out the year with Arkansas at Arrowhead Stadium. Arkansas will have a new coaching staff, and there's a possibility for new staffs at Kentucky and Mississippi State.