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The Missouri team that played Kentucky would earn Barry Odom a third year in charge

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For better or worse.

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NCAA Football: Missouri at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

It’s one of the laws of sports-writing: you have to do some pre-writing a lot of the time. Timeliness matters, and aside from certain circumstances — like when I’m actually at a Mizzou home game and can’t write until I get home — when I am in charge of writing the post-game report, chances are that I’ve started it well before the game actually ends.

That was most certainly the case for yesterday’s Missouri-Kentucky game. When Mizzou fell behind, 13-0, I went ahead and started writing, thinking there was a chance that things would get out of hand and I wouldn’t be watching much of the second half.

Every time I revisited the draft, however, things got less harsh.

Sure, a lot of the essence was still there; in the end, you could say that Missouri’s early mistakes — the sack and strip of Drew Lock (which Kentucky naturally recovered since Mizzou is not legally allowed to recover fumbles this year), the early missed field goal, the incredibly silly personal foul penalty on Kevin Pendleton that effectively ended a drive — were the difference in the game.

But when a team shows the fight that the Tigers did, I tend to show quite a bit of forgiveness. I ended up removing or softening large passages about this team not knowing how to win, players looking completely undeveloped and undisciplined, etc. Sure, that’s still and issue, but we saw growth.

This is going to be Missouri’s third straight bowl-free season. That is all but certain.

If the Tigers had figured out a way past Kentucky last night, you could have pretty easily painted a picture of a team that loses to Georgia, beats Idaho and UConn, and enters the home stretch at 4-4 with a decent chance of going 2-2 against Florida, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, and Arkansas.

But now, if the most likely scenario unfolds in the coming weeks, Mizzou would have to 3-1 in those final four games. Technically possible? Yes, but not very.

Because of Missouri’s September collapse — because of the last three quarters against South Carolina, every snap of the Purdue game, and basically the first quarter and a half or so against Auburn — whatever goals the Tigers had this year were all but erased.

But a disappointing second year, in and of itself, doesn’t keep you from earning a third.

Building your own culture takes a while. Even if we expected more Gary Pinkel continuity than we are seeing under Odom, it’s clearly no different from him. He’s made changes and mistakes, and he will likely continue to do so. But in most cases, you need three years to truly put your pieces where you want them to be.

As I’ve written before, it takes pretty special circumstances to get a guy fired after just two years as head coach.

Sometimes improvement isn’t happening as quickly as you’d like it to, and while that’s frustrating, it’s not necessarily fireable. We know Missouri fans can be as impatient as anyone, but few schools have proved the virtue of patience quite as much as Missouri. Gary Pinkel could have been fired after 2004 or 2005. Or, hell, if you believe what he says in his book, he could have been fired after 2012, too. Patience pays off more often than not.

But patience also requires a baseline of proof. The bar isn’t incredibly high, but you have to clear it.

Missouri cleared it in Lexington. The Tigers showed fire. They seemed to acknowledge that they actually have to fight hard to win games. They re-discovered their offensive explosiveness. We’d like to think these are all things they could have learned or shown in Week 2, and not Week 5, but again, growth will likely save Odom’s job even if the results aren’t quite where Odom, we, or Jim Sterk would prefer they are.

This is not a post intended to pump sunshine, by the way. You could argue that this is almost the worst-case scenario.

If the team completely fell apart, Odom would probably be gone, and you could maybe hire someone who could salvage some of the in-state recruiting that is likely to collapse (or finish off the collapse that is already underway) with another 4-8ish season.

Long-term, heading into Year 3 in limbo — not yet fired, not yet proven — will lead to another year of difficult recruiting.

You could indeed spin this into a positive if you want. Behold: Without the obligation to go after specific local recruits, you can bring more of ‘your guys’ into the program, guys who will fight and scratch and claw and do everything you want, and besides, talent evaluation definitely isn’t the problem right now.

Still, that’s a pretty tricky spin to pull off. Talent is good, and Missouri needs more of it, and getting it to campus will be difficult if you’re selling “Yeah, went 4-8 the last two years, but trust me! It’s getting better! Really!”

This is the bed Missouri has made, though. When you make a hire, you have to give that hire a chance to succeed or fail. Mizzou’s effort against Purdue two games ago was failure in every possible way. But effort like last night’s will probably earn Odom leeway. For better or worse.


By the way, catch Tramel’s post-game Facebook Live session here:

Missouri leaves it all on the field but still fall 40-34. Let us chat

Posted by Rock M Nation on Saturday, October 7, 2017