It was the Florida win last year when I officially punched my ticket on the Barry Odom train.
Like many Missouri fans, I’d been frustrated-to-unsure of how I should’ve been feeling about the third-year head coach. His young career had been marked by a lot of losing, which was doubly frustrating with the talent he had at the game’s most important position. Missouri’s window with an NFL-caliber QB was quickly coming to a close, and it seemed as if the time had been mostly wasted. Sure, there had been a few late season streaks and moments of hope, but there’d been just as many migraine-inducing losses and boneheaded late-game decisions. I was willing to give the young coach the benefit of the doubt, but I admit my patience was running thin.
Then Missouri went into Gainesville and pasted a Top 10 team. Since then, I’ve been on board. But I’d be unwell in the head to not admit that Saturday gave me quite a bit of pause.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m still stumping for Barry Odom as Missouri’s head coach. It’s fairly easy to see how talent-averse the roster was when Odom took over and how the trajectory of the program has steadily risen since. In year one, the team was hopelessly dull and a Battle Line loss away from being miserable. In year two, the team was talented, but frustrating, acting like they rarely wanted to punch at or above their weight class. In year three, there were big steps made — the team recovered from a few devastating losses and won a game against one of the country’s best teams (on the road, no less!)
The book has not yet been written on year four, but the signs of another step forward were all there. Missouri wasn’t just beating bad teams — they were beating unquestionably good teams and those who had the same upstart spirit the Tigers carried just a few years ago. Yeah, there was the loss to Wyoming, but every team outside of Alabama and Clemson has a fluke loss, right? The offense looked tight and the defense looked better than it ever had under Odom.
Without knowing the ins and outs of a coach’s job, it sure seemed like Barry Odom was improving too. Gone were the questionable late-game decisions, if only because the team refused to put themselves in that position. Whereas a loss to Wyoming would’ve crippled past teams, the Tigers responded by ripping off five straight wins, including two in conference play. And Odom, known as the coach to take three steps forward before taking two back, appeared to have focused his roster enough to navigate a division that was ripe for the taking.
And then, you know... Saturday.
The loss to the Commodores didn’t undo all the progress the Tigers were making under Odom’s watchful eye, but it did cause some serious heartburn for those who have bought into Odom’s leadership. The upperclassmen leaders, consistent evidence of a team in lockstep with its coach, turned into pumpkins about one and a half weeks before Halloween. The offensive line, a hallmark of the Odom era, was pancaked by Vanderbilt’s less-than-stellar front. The defense — long the sticking point in Odom’s craw, but recently returned to “elite” status — couldn’t pick up its struggling offense when they needed it most. And those yellow flags, falling from the sky like sad, wispy birds, marked a team that look undisciplined and unprepared from snap one.
It was everything you expect to see from a poorly-coached team. Odom haters will tell you they expected it all along. Former Mizzou WR-turned radio guy, TJ Moe, will tell you that you’re a traitor for questioning the coach.
I will — well, I don’t really know what to tell you. You’re certainly allowed to be angry, even very angry. And while you’re also allowed to call for Odom’s head, I’d suggest its unwise to turn the tables on a program that is clearly on the rise.
However, maybe the rise isn’t happening as fast as I and other Odom stans would have hoped. Maybe it’s not happening at all? I think it is. I’m, like, 85 percent sure... OK, maybe 70.
In all honestly, I’m not sure how to gauge my confidence moving forward. I still believe Barry Odom is the right coach for the Missouri job, and it’s going to take much more than a bad road loss or two to convince me otherwise. But I’ll confess myself puzzled that a coach making such impressive strides in his fourth year could have such a major setback.
So many people have already bailed on the Odom train. I’m not one of them, but I’d appreciate if he didn’t give me any more reasons to question why I bought the ticket in the first place.