I don’t have an answer to the question everyone is asking.
For days rumors have been persistent about the future of Barry Odom and his coaching staff at the University of Missouri, and the rumors weren’t positive for the head coach getting another chance to lead the Tigers in 2020.
A week ago, following the loss to Tennessee, I said this put the program at a crossroads. If Odom and Missouri had defeated Tennessee, they likely would dispatch of Arkansas and even though the season was a disappointment it would be hard to justify a reason to fire Odom after an injury ravaged 7-5 season. But they lost, and regardless of the results in Little Rock, the necessary cover was provided.
Then, the NCAA stepped in and upheld their ridiculous sanctions against the program, including penalties against the Softball and Baseball programs as well.
Whether the news from the NCAA provided more or less cover for the Athletic Department and Jim Sterk to make a decision is up to the interpreter. But it certainly provided incentive for Odom, his staff, and team, to mail it in against Arkansas yesterday. With no bowl invite on the line for the Tigers there was every setup they needed to provide a stinker of a performance, and yet it didn’t happen.
Kelly Bryant, banged up with injuries all year, was sidelined and Freshman QB Connor Bazelak got the starting nod. Even the bounce the team might’ve picked up from the young gunslinger dissipated after just nine passes into the second quarter when he went down with an injury. Taylor Powell stepped up and delivered a nearly mistake free performance against his hometown school, the one which never offered him a scholarship.
Jalen Knox went down to injury, Kam Scott did as well. They Tigers lost Case Cook at some point as well.
Arkansas is a program is complete and utter disarray, but they smelled blood in the water early, and came to put up a fight. Missouri was able to snuff it out.
I don’t know if Barry Odom is the answer any longer, but if the players desire to fight for their coach is any indication, he appears to have the full fight from each and every guy on the roster. We know because Missouri has had to use just about all of them at some point. Like Tauskie Dove, a redshirt freshman from Texas, catching a 37 yard pass by leaping over two defenders and Dominic Gicinto, in the fourth quarter to move the chains on a 3rd down and 10. Without that catch, Missouri doesn’t score their third touchdown, all but assuring the win. Or Ish Burdine, who was marked out for the season with a torn labrum, returned to get his first playing time of the season. The team, and the players, fight for their head coach.
One of the things I like about Barry Odom is the sense of loyalty he’s been able to install throughout his program. The guys who are here really want to be here and that’s admirable. Here’s the puzzle Jim Sterk has to solve, that loyalty isn’t enough. It’s great for social media fodder, it’s nice for offseason workout videos, but Sterk has to answer if that’s enough to buy Odom more time?
And even then it’s not as simple as the question: ‘Is Odom the right guy?’
If you’re Sterk and deciding to move on from Odom, you have to know you can solve the issues the football program faces with someone who is better and more equipped to win at Missouri than Odom is right now. You also have to know they’ll do it with the constraints of the upcoming sanctions and the limits of the budget. The first is a factor we shouldn’t ignore, the second is a factor we have to understand.
Losing about $10 million from the SEC bowl pool plus scholarships and recruiting time is going to hurt. But you can work around it. It becomes harder with a coaching change, but it’s still workable. A coaching changes likely leaves a new coach scrambling to assemble a recruiting class or hold together the current commitments as best he can. Keeping Odom means staying on the current path and likely keeping your current signees, plus whatever plan he had in place for the scholarship reduction.
But the second part is where you have to tread lightly... the football budget. Missouri typically sits at the back of the SEC pack in both revenue and expenditures. Joining the SEC has created additional streams of revenue, and a conference revenue-sharing benefits the schools who aren’t sitting on a pile of cash like Alabama or Georgia. The move has helped make Missouri more competitive in the overall landscape of college athletics, they’d be 3rd in the Big 12, 5th in Pac-12, 4th in the ACC, but 11th in the Big 10, and 12th in the SEC. Mizzou sits between Ole Miss and Mississippi State in revenue, and well behind Arkansas
I don’t say all this to imply we shouldn’t have higher expectations or aspirations, but there are just more obstacles in the way. Think of your ideal candidate, now ask yourself... is he a part of the Florida State coaching search? Does Arkansas want him?
Expectations to win at Missouri should be high, and they are high. The question before Jim Sterk is if he doesn’t believe Barry Odom is the right coach to get the program, who is the right guy, and more importantly, does that guy want the job?
Missouri can be a pretty special place when things are all working together. It will be special again. When? I can’t answer that. The win over Arkansas was either the beginning of the end for Barry Odom, or the catalyst he needed to start changing minds. Sterk will either make the move, or delay the inevitable for another year. Maybe in the delay, Odom just might turn it around. Either way, we should have an answer soon.