ST LOUIS, MO (KTVI)- University of Missouri Athletic Director Mack Rhoades on Wednesday addressed the media extensively for the first time about what figures to be the most important hire of his career-the next head football coach of the Tigers. Rhoades spoke by name about two of the names which have already been floated as possible candidates, Houston Cougars coach Tom Herman and Memphis Tigers coach Justin Fuente.
What makes this search unlike almost any other in school history are the dynamics surrounding the current squad and what Rhoades sees as the future direction of the program. For the first time in generations, this isn’t a search for a someone to rebuild the program from its foundation. That means whoever is hired will not have an incredibly long leash to get their feet wet, not with inheriting a program that has won two SEC division titles in the last three years. Gary Pinkel said himself on Saturday and Rhoades repeated Wednesday that even though much has been accomplished in the last 15 years, there’s an ability to take Tiger football to an ever higher plane.
You have to think Herman is in the mix at least at the start. Rhoades hired him at Houston just last year. But the Tigers aren’t alone. South Carolina, Southern California, Virginia Tech, Miami are already lurking out there with openings, and there will be others. And a big one could be at the University of Texas, if Charlie Strong leaves this offseason for Miami, or if the school decides to go in a new direction next season as the rebuilding process continues in Austin. Herman is a natural fit with a long history as a college assistant in the state, including at UT. Mizzou fans would cringe at the thought that MU would be back in the hunt for a new head coach after next season, although nothing Rhoades said Wednesday eliminated that as a possibility.
Also of note, his comments didn’t appear to preclude the hiring of someone without college head coaching experience, say, someone like current MU Defensive Coordinator Barry Odom.
There’s a strong chance that whoever gets the job will be coming from a program that is playing in a conference championship game and/or a bowl game. Will the Tigers want to wait until January to have that person’s undivided attention when it comes to building a staff and closing in on the February signing period for recruits?
I wonder if Mizzou’s bowl situation plays a factor here. If Rhoades decides Odom is ready for the job, and the team earns a bowl bid (keep in mind there are scenarios this year where even teams with a 5-7 record will get bids because of a lack of 6 win teams), that would give him several weeks of hands-on practice time with players who would see what he’d be like as a head coach-in waiting. It would also give him time to shore up his coaching staff, with an assumption that it would include some other members of the current staff that is otherwise already looking for new jobs. It could also smooth over nervous recruits and their families.
But those are short-term considerations. None of that matters if Rhoades doesn’t see Odom as the person to take Mizzou to new heights in the long-term. The new Athletic Director now has to decide what he wants, and who he wants in charge of the football program.. It’s only the biggest hire of his career.