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Barry Odom and the Year 3 plateau

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The Tigers improved their record from Year 1 to 2 of the Odom era. What can recent SEC history tell us about what’s in store for Year 3?

NCAA Football: Missouri at Vanderbilt
Can Barry Odom follow the Gary Pinkel example and make a significant jump in his third year in charge?
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Here’s the thing about the 2017 Missouri football team: It ended up right about where I thought it would.

The way the Tigers got there — you know, going 1-5 before winning six straight to end the season, something about a speech, something about lighting stuff on fire — was a little unconventional. But the 7-6 end result was right about where I (and, let’s be honest, a bunch of other prognosticaty types) thought Missouri would be.

That’s not meant as a slight to Barry Odom. That’s actually meant as a bit of a compliment, that I thought he had the competency as a head coach and his team had the requisite talent and potential to make a modest gain from Year 1 to Year 2.

Odom’s first two seasons have put him in line with the majority of the rest of his recent SEC coaching brethren. If you look at the latest coach from each of the league’s 14 teams that has lasted at least three years with those teams, 11 of them made improvements in record from Year 1 to Year 2.

That’s as true for Nick Saban as it is for Derek Mason. The only three it wasn’t true for were Gus Malzahn (what with his surprise first-year trip to the National Championship Game), Les Miles (with his matching 11-2s in his first two seasons) and Kevin Sumlin (with his step down from JOHNNY FREAKIN FOOTBALL in 2012 to just Jonathan Manziel in 2013).

The other 11 — Saban, Bret Bielema, Will Muschamp (at Florida), Mark Richt, Mark Stoops, Hugh Freeze, Dan Mullen, Gary Pinkel (yes, I know he was in the Big 12 at the time), Steve Spurrier, Butch Jones and Mason — all made improvements from Year 1 to Year 2.

So did Odom.

Now, the question that’s at least a little bit pertinent to Odom and the 2018 Missouri Tigers: How did they all do in Year 3?

The answer: an extremely mixed bag that, on the whole, ended up in a minor step back from Year 2.

Year 1 for these coaches yielded a combined win percentage of .430. In Year 2, that number went up to .627, or an increase of 46 percent.

Odom’s climb was a bit steeper, going from .333 in his first year to .539 in his second, or an increase of 62 percent.

In the third year, those 11 coaches who made gains dropped back ever so slightly, plateauing at a win percentage of .620. A drop of 1.11 percent.

Here’s the list of the trend from Year 2 to Year 3, arranged from the biggest gainer to the biggest step back, with the group average thrown in there. The numbers in parentheses are their Year 1 records.

  • Gary Pinkel, Missouri (4-7): 5-7 to 8-5, +47.5%
  • Derek Mason, Vanderbilt (3-9): 4-8 to 6-7, +38.7%
  • Butch Jones, Tennessee (5-7): 7-6 to 9-4, +28.6%
  • Nick Saban, Alabama (7-6): 12-2 to 14-0, +16.7%
  • Bret Bielema, Arkansas (3-9): 7-6 to 8-5, +14.3%
  • Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss (7-6): 8-5 to 9-4, +12.5%
  • Mark Stoops, Kentucky (2-10): 5-7 to 5-7, 0.0%
  • Average (5.2-6.8): 8.2-4.8 to 8.1-4.9, -1.1%
  • Mark Richt, Georgia (8-4): 13-1 to 11-3, -15.4%
  • Steve Spurrier, South Carolina (7-5): 8-5 to 6-6, -18.7%
  • Dan Mullen, Mississippi St. (5-7): 9-4 to 7-6, -22.3%
  • Will Muschamp, Florida (7-6): 11-2 to 4-8, -60.6%

A couple things to consider here:

  • It’s still crazy what happened to Florida in 2014. Like, crazy.
  • The coaches who didn’t keep improving from Year 2 to Year 3 actually end up being the strongest ones on this list. Well, except for Muschamp. Though he’s off to a decent start at South Carolina.
  • Look at the man at the top: Gary Pinkel. But also remember what happened to him in 2004. Which leads me to…

…the only one of those seven coaches that improved from Year 2 to 3 who kept right on improving into Year 4 was Freeze. Granted, it was impossible for Saban to improve on perfection, but the others reached the peak in Year 3, then fell fast.

Mason missed a bowl last year. As did Pinkel the year after his 2003 bowl, leading to some hot-seat talk until Mike Alden’s cool head prevailed. Jones had the same record in Year 4, then got fired in Year 5. Bielema dropped a game in Year 4, then got the boot after Year 5.

The Year 3 plateau has also been accompanied by a bit of a dip in recruiting results as well. On the average, the coaches at nine of these 11 teams (not Pinkel and Richt…we’ll get to that in a moment), pulled in a class ranked 26th in the nation according to Rivals, on average, the February before their first season at the helm. The next year, that average rank fell to 19th, before rising back up to 22nd and 24th in the subsequent years.

(Pinkel and Richt weren’t included because in their “Year 0,” 2001, there was no such thing as Rivals national team rankings. They were not, however, immune to this trend: Georgia ranked third in Richt’s Year 1, then was sixth each of the next two years. Missouri ranked 29th in Pinkel’s Year 1, then was 28th and 29th again.)

So what trajectory will Odom take? If he plateaus and posts another 7-6 in Year 3, would that be enough to satisfy Missouri fans? If he takes a step up to 8-5 or 9-4, would he then come back down to earth a little in Year 4, as has been the wont of his recent cohort?

If he takes a step back to 6-7 or 5-7 this season, would the administration have the patience to see if he ends up being a Dan Mullen type?

Odom’s recruiting results have been a little atypical when it comes to this list. His Year 0 rank (47th) was better than his Year 1 (49th), and then he took a step up to 41st this year. If we factor in another class in the mid-40s, is that enough firepower to keep up with the rest of the league?

If recent history is any indication, that 7-6/8-5 range would be a pretty typical finish for the Tigers this year.

Check out the spreadsheet below for this all in tabular form: