I want to take you back to a darker time.
September 23rd, 2017: In the early days of Barry Odom’s second season as the Missouri Head Football Coach, the Missouri Football team held a home contest against a top 20 program in the Auburn Tigers.
It... uh... didn’t go well.
Missouri was coming off back to back blowout losses — at home — to the South Carolina Gamecocks and the Purdue Boilermakers. Odom’s Tigers struggled that day and gave up 51 points to Auburn in an embarrassing loss. Mizzou fan apathy and distaste for Odom was already beginning to fester at that point and some began to overflow post-Auburn.
Rock M Nation wasn’t calling for Odom’s head at that point, but Bill wasn’t exactly pumping the breaks on those who were mad at where the program was at that stage. And Odom knew it. He unleashed a bit in the post-game press conference:
Bill also said the following week was the most important of Barry Odom’s coaching life. Missouri lost that next game but they did find a spark and some swagger. They were down 13-0 before things kicked in. They ended up scoring 34 points the rest of the way, and fell short (with the help of some officiating blunders late in the game). The following week Drew Lock torched the Georgia secondary, but it wasn’t enough to stop a monster of a team from Athens in a 53-28 loss.
The Tigers turned their season around by reeling off six straight wins before losing to Texas in their bowl game, finishing 7-6. Last season yielded an eight win campaign, coupled with several games which felt like they slipped through the Tigers’ fingers.
However, this year is a different animal. In year four, Barry Odom’s team is one picked by many to finish amongst the top of the SEC East and compete for nine or 10 wins. The famed SP+ (I miss the ampersand — I admit it) has them starting the season at 13th. They’re helmed at Quarterback by a National Championship-level QB in Kelly Bryant, and beat out some elite schools for his services. Facing an NCAA sanctioned bowl ban, Missouri only lost a handful of players to transfer and all of them were of the ‘playing time’ variety and not the ‘bowl ban’ variety.
Now, more than ever, players feel bought in.
Brandon Kiley mentioned “The Most Likable Mizzou Football Team in Years” the other day, and I agree with him. Mizzou’s locker room videos of dancing and having fun and the joy of being around each other has spawned other less convincing knock offs.
Odom took a program floundering in the post-Pinkel and post-protest era and struggled as a first time head coach. He started 5-13, cycling through some questionable coaching hires in doing so but since then he’s 14-6. Since Odom told the Mizzou Media room he was the man to get the job done and he would win at Mizzou he’s 14-8.
I’m always skeptical of coaching hires, because MOST never really work out.
Missouri has been lucky at times in the past and really unlucky at other times. I didn’t know at the time if Odom was the right pick, but I was ready to get behind it and believed it could work out. The job at Missouri is a tough one, made tougher by the move to the SEC. They’re in a nearly unwinnable arms race against teams like Tennessee and Florida, who, despite Mizzou’s success against them in the past few years, are more likely to get it right at some point.
But if you’re going to compete with less, you want a guy who’s done it all with a lot less. Odom was a dogged competitor on the field as a player, and has proven to date he can get players to sell themselves into his system and believe in what he’s trying to accomplish.
This season presents the most golden of opportunities for Odom and his staff. With the players in place and the schedule set-up, all Missouri has to do is exceed expectations just a little bit and you could be looking at the kind of season we talk about 10, or 20, or 30 years later. The chance is there for the kind of discussions of “where were you when...” and the names of players like Cale Garrett, Kelly Bryant, and Larry Rountree etched into our minds forever.
The state of the program is as healthy as it’s been since Chase Daniel and Jeremy Maclin and Tony Temple looked to break through. Barry Odom was a coach on the staff in 2007. He’s seen the break through. The question we all have right now is can he lead this team into the echelon of Missouri Football excellence?
Tomorrow we begin the journey.