Friday had to feel pretty good for Missouri coach Barry Odom.
Not only did his Tigers’ defeat Arkansas in the Battle Line rivalry game to finish the regular season 8-4, but the win also officially put Odom above .500 in his coaching career in Columbia.
For a coach as under fire as Odom has been this season, the win might have just placed new confidence in his ability to lead this program. Missouri did what it was supposed to: it dominated the Razorbacks in every facet of the game, earning a 38-point win and securing its first shutout of a conference foe since 2010. It was the kind of overpowering victory that could propel the Tigers into the conversation for the top-25.
But how much did it really prove Odom’s worth as the head coach?
Odom was blessed with a top-five quarterback in school history in Drew Lock when he took over for the 2016 season. To add on to that, Lock already had half a season as a starter, so there really wasn’t much of a transition period left for Lock by the time Odom took the job.
But through his first 18 games, Odom’s record stood at 5-13
Odom’s inability to win with one of the top quarterback prospects in the nation throughout the first year-and-a-half of his tenure was always a footnote to any positives he brought to the team. The more he lost, the more fans were calling for his head.
Then the back half of 2017 hit.
Missouri broke off for six-straight wins to end the regular season, and a few weeks later, Lock and defensive captain Terry Beckner Jr. announced that they would return for their senior seasons. For the first time in a long time, there was stability at the top of the Tigers’ pecking order, and many were beginning to believe that maybe, just maybe, Odom was the man for the job.
After going 3-0 to begin the season, the naysayers were about as quiet as they’d been at any point during Odom’s tenure. Five games later, though, Missouri sat at 4-4 and had just blown an 11-point halftime lead to a ranked team in Kentucky.
Odom still had no wins over ranked teams to add to his resume, and the naysayers were back in full force.
Never mind that the now-revered Gary Pinkel had similar struggles to start his own coaching career at Missouri; the backlash Odom faced may have gone a little further than the understandable frustration of fans wanting their team to succeed.
But Odom and Co. persevered, manhandled off another ranked team the next week in Florida and busted out three more wins over Vanderbilt, Tennessee and Arkansas to end the regular season on the right note.
Odom’s current record stands at 19-18, and a win in the Tigers’ upcoming bowl game (date, time and location to be announced Dec. 2) would secure his winning record as a coach, at least through the end of this season.
Next year, Odom’s ability to head the program will still have some questions marks.
With Lock graduating this season — and if Kelly Bryant decides to commit elsewhere — can Odom continue to win without a highly-touted quarterback running the offense? And with defensive standouts like Beckner and Terez Hall also moving on, can Missouri continue to build on some of the defensive successes it had this season?
Those questions, though, will have to be answered in 2019, when we can get a full look at the team Odom puts out on the field.
For now, Odom can relax and look back at Nov. 23, 2018 as the time his record first stood above .500 as a head coach.