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Missouri’s winning culture has vanished

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It’s not all Barry Odom’s fault, but it’s on him to fix it. Or else.

Purdue v Missouri Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

As we attempt to move on from the compete and utter debacle that was Saturday afternoon at Faurot Field, some semi-scattered thoughts:

It takes a lot to get a coach fired in his second year

I know that from a fan perspective (media, too, really), it’s over — Barry Odom’s already fired, Les Miles has already been hired and fired, and we’re like 900 miles down the road.

It doesn’t quite work that way, though. Tons of coaches have horrendous games or stretches, but not very many get dumped before their third year. It usually takes something special for things to go that far.

To be sure, Saturday was special. I stand by what I said after the game: that was the most unprepared Mizzou team I’ve seen take the field in a long while, and most of the other contenders for Worst Mizzou Performance I’ve Seen in the last two decades were at least teams that had nothing to play for — the 2015 (28-3 Arkansas), 2012 (59-29 Texas A&M), 2001 (55-7 Michigan State), and 1999 (66-0 Kansas State) teams had all packed it in because their respective seasons were over, and it’s really hard to get motivated in those instances. It was difficult to watch those games, but you at least sort of understood why things happened the way they did.

That Mizzou could lay such an awful egg in the season’s third week is terrifying. And it’s a performance like that that can get a guy fired in his second year.

But as I also said on Saturday, the fact that it’s early now plays into Odom’s hands. Even if Jim Sterk were to decide to make a change, and even if he were to decide he wanted to get an early start on finding a replacement, there’s no difference between week 3 and, say, week 7 in that regard. So sure, start building your own candidates list in your head if you want. Anything is possible — and lord, if the Tigers play like that a couple more times, things become far more probable — but odds are very small that there is any sort of move made in the next few weeks.

Mizzou is going to spend the entire week getting its manhood challenged

As angry/astounded as all of us were about the performance of Odom’s team on Saturday, Odom was probably twice as angry. He’s known as a players’ coach for the most part, but this week’s practices are likely to be, shall we say, pretty player-unfriendly.

This is probably going to be the toughest week of practice Mizzou Football has seen in quite a while. I’m guessing that means one of two things for Saturday’s game against Auburn: an accelerated free fall or a rebound. My guess is the latter.

I would expect to see a pretty angry, focused Mizzou team take the field this coming Saturday evening (in front of, like, 30,000 fans). And hell, with Auburn’s own fragility at the moment — Gus Malzahn’s Tigers are super talented, and that defense is really tough to move, but they fumbled five times and let Mercer hang around on Saturday — that could mean good things.

It’s impossible, of course, to think of the team we’ve seen over the last seven quarters or so sustaining the effort it would take to beat what is indeed a very talented Auburn team. But my guess is that Mizzou puts on a pretty good effort. The alternative is still very much on the table, though.

This isn’t just coaching

I’ve been lucky enough to visit more football programs, coaches, etc., of late with my SB Nation hat on, and when you hear something frequently enough, you begin to believe it: a large amount of the team leadership — larger than you might think — comes from the players themselves.

Take this excerpt from my August Boise State piece, for instance:

[Defensive coordinator and former BSU all-conference linebacker Andy] Avalos: I think the coaches had that plan in place that we would just work, and that was just kind of driven into us. If your guys outwork your opponents, if you have fun, you do it as a team, you get that taste of success.

You win some games, and you're like, well shoot, they're right.

[Running backs coach and former BSU all-conference RB Lee] Marks: It's about the players believing in the process and the culture that was there before them. It's up to the older guys to show the younger guys this is how we do things.

Ultimately with coaches, it's like the parent and the kid; it goes through one ear and out the other. But if you're listening to your peers, your older peers, it really helps. Leadership is a big deal, but it falls back on how much experience those older guys really have.

Avalos: When we were running plays [without the coaches around] in the summer time, I mean, we were working. And if things weren't right, the quarterbacks were yelling at the wide receivers. We were on top of each other and holding each other accountable.

That was the culture here. You're going to hold yourself accountable, and we're gonna hold ourselves accountable. You’re gonna understand what's expected of you.

BSU would lose its coach to a bigger school, replace him, and get better. It happened when the school lost Houston Nutt, then Dirk Koetter, then Dan Hawkins. Even with Chris Petersen now gone, the Broncos are still one of the two or three safest bets at the mid-major level. And it’s happened as much because of the players as the coaches. You learn what’s expected of you as a freshman, you have it proven to you repeatedly, and then you teach the new freshmen what’s expected of them when you’re an upperclassman.

That winning culture can dissipate when wins get further in the rear view. This season’s Mizzou seniors have only been on winning team (2014), and few of them played a significant role on that team. This isn’t a very big senior class, and it’s had to deal with a coaching change, and it hasn’t been provided with the same amount of pure “This is what works” evidence that previous senior classes had seen.

A list of current seniors:

  • J’Mon Moore
  • Marcell Frazier
  • Anthony Sherrils
  • Logan Cheadle
  • Ish Witter
  • Eric Beisel
  • Jason Reese
  • Tyler Howell
  • Jordan Harold
  • Thomas Wilson
  • Joey Burkett
  • Dominic Collins
  • Alec Abeln
  • Adam Ploudre
  • Anthony Hines
  • Kyle Mitchell
  • A.J. Logan

Here’s what they combined to do against Purdue on Saturday:

  • Sherrils and Wilson combined for 11 solo tackles, four assists, a tackle for loss, a forced fumble, and an interception. Right offhand, I don’t recall if they were responsible for any of the egregiously awful missed tackles early on or not. Maybe not.
  • Frazier had two tackles for loss and a sack.

Good!

  • Witter rushed seven times for 25 yards.
  • Cheadle had three solo tackles.

Less good.

  • Moore caught three passes but had a touchdown pass ripped out of his hands, perhaps the single most indicative play of who actually wanted to win and who didn’t.
  • Logan, of course, was still suspended for academic misconduct.

Bad. Awful, actually.

Sherrils, Wilson, and Frazier tried to lead by example, and to be sure, the defense stabilized long before the offense did. But when you’ve got basically three seniors leading the way, you’ve got no senior leadership.

That’s not really this coaching staff’s fault — it inherited what it inherited. Obviously better coaching could lead to more success, which would in turn provide the evidence needed for good player leadership. But this is what happens when a winning culture stops winning. It becomes very difficult for even an experienced coaching staff to get that ship turned back around.