Welcome to coaching search season, Mizzou fans. Buckle in, because it’s about to be a bumpy ride.
Missouri just did the easy thing. It fired its head coach. That doesn’t make the decision right or wrong. But anyone is capable of firing a coach for not living up to expectations. I could put my uncle Mike in charge of the athletic department, and he’s fully willing and able to tell someone they’re out of a job.
What comes next is the hard part.
This is the part of the job Jim Sterk is paid the big bucks to handle.
Sterk fired Barry Odom because he deemed Odom to be the wrong coach for the job at this time. Now it’s time to find the right coach. That will not be a simple task.
Over the coming days and week(s?), you’ll undoubtedly hear dozens of names connected with the opening. Agents and search firms and AD’s and media outlets alike will toss out names like it’s an Oprah show giveaway.
You’ll love a name one day and hate it the next. There are pros and cons to every candidate. At the end of the search, you’re more than likely to emerge with a coach you talk yourself into but deep down have no idea if they’ll actually work out or not.
You’re not alone.
That’s how this works. That’s how a coaching search at any school not named Alabama, Texas, Ohio State, Oklahoma, etc goes.
And, honestly, that’s how it’s worked for certain “blue bloods” in recent years, too.
The coaching market has changed.
Smaller schools are able to pay the big bucks to keep coaches in place. Top candidates are willing to stay a year too long to get the right job instead of leaving a year too early for any power five gig. Someone like Iowa State’s Matt Campbell is a legend in Ames. Twenty years ago, he may have bolted for the next gig to keep climbing the ladder. In 2019, he’s reportedly already declined interest in Mizzou.
Top coaches in the group of five are making more than $2 million per year. The same applies to top coordinators at a select group of blue blood universities. Those coaches aren’t leaving for the first job that presents itself. They’ll be selective while they wait for their next opportunity to build their own program (see: Venables, Brent).
For all of these reasons and so many more, what Sterk is trying to accomplish is really, really difficult. Probably more so than most Mizzou fans would like to believe.
With that in mind, what should Sterk be looking for? Who is the right coach at the right time for this program?
Here are a few qualities I would look for while searching for the next Mizzou football coach:
1 - A proven program builder.
One thing ADs tend to do in a coaching search is seek out the opposite of the last coach. Well, one thing Barry Odom didn’t have on his resume prior to getting the job at Missouri was the head coach label.
I expect Missouri to go a different route on the next hire.
I would expect Sterk to look for someone who has been a head coach and has shown an ability to build a program. This would apply to many current group of five head coaches, power five coaches or former head coaches that have either taken a step back to being a coordinator or are out of the business for whatever reason.
2 - An offensive background.
This is a trend that’s been taking place for years. It hit the NFL last year and I expect it to continue with Missouri in its coaching search. I believe it will be important to Sterk to hire someone who has a history of fielding successful offenses.
Everyone in the SEC seemingly has a good defense. It’s hard to “out-defense” Kentucky or Florida or Georgia or any of the top programs from the SEC West. It’s too hard to win that way in this conference.
The best way to get back to winning is by developing quarterbacks and putting them in the best position to succeed. That’s obviously easier said than done, but it was the single biggest factor behind Pinkel’s success at Mizzou and I expect it to be a priority when Sterk is differentiating between individual candidates this time around.
3 - A coach who “fits” in Missouri.
I don’t care if the next coach has ties to Missouri or St. Louis or Kansas City or anything like that. Those things are largely overblown.
What I do care about is whether or not the next coach has a personality type that “fits” in Missouri. There are certain coaches who - for whatever reason - just wouldn’t be a good culture fit at Mizzou.
An example of this is Mike Leach. I would love to see Missouri hire Leach from a pure football perspective. He has a proven track record of building a program, scheming one hell of an offense and developing quarterbacks who fit his system.
It’s all the other “stuff” that, in my opinion, takes him out of the running for the job at Missouri. I don’t believe Sterk will look at Leach as a legitimate candidate. There will certainly be other coaches who would otherwise be quality candidates who aren’t considered because of this criteria.
4 - A coach who is willing to be innovative.
This is something that’s really tough to grasp of as a fan. Let’s be honest, how much Wake Forest, Tulane or Louisiana-Lafayette have you been watching? How many Joe Brady interviews have you seen?
It’s also a difficult characteristic to quantify. But it’s something I would definitely be looking for it in Missouri’s next coach.
Let’s take a step back for a moment and talk about where Mizzou stands among SEC football programs. It ranks among the bottom 3-4 annually in revenue. Historically, it’s probably in that same tier when it comes to winning. The stadium is fine. The fan base is solid... but it certainly doesn’t stack up against some of the upper-tier SEC programs. That’s not a shot in any way against Mizzou fans, it’s just the reality of the situation. Florida, Alabama, Georgia, etc. simply have larger fan bases.
So, there are clear and obvious limitations at Mizzou. It’s harder to be a successful coach at Missouri than it is at Florida or Tennessee or Alabama. It’s not impossible by any stretch of the imagine. But it does require a coach that’s a cut above. It requires a coach willing to try new things to gain an edge.
If you were on Twitter for any amount of time on Saturday you undoubtedly saw the amount of praise former Mizzou players had for former MU strength & conditioning coach Pat Ivey. You know why? Because he implemented things into the MU S&C program that were new and innovative. That was one way Gary Pinkel kept his program a step ahead.
I don’t know what that next frontier will be for the next Missouri head coach. But I would hope the next coach is open to those types of ideas.
So there you have it.
Missouri is looking for is an innovative current or former head coach with an offensive background who fits the Midwest and has a history of building programs.
There might be 20 coaches who fit that criteria. It could be as few as 10 of them who are interested in leaving their current job. Maybe five of them are interested in the Missouri job. That’s your short list.
From there, it’s Jim Sterk’s job to hire the right guy at the right time for the long-term growth of Mizzou football.
Like I said, the easy part is over. The hard part is only just beginning.