The first day of Missouri football’s offseason also marked the first day of the Tigers’ search for a new head coach.
With news of Barry Odom’s firing breaking Saturday morning, athletic director Jim Sterk held a press conference to address the situation and provide more clarity on the program moving forward, including the search for a new head coach.
When asked about the timeline that led to the decision to fire Odom, Sterk said it had been discussed previously but the final decision was made “in the last 24-48 hours with (UM System) President (Mun) Choi and (MU) Chancellor (Alexander) Cartwright.”
Because Odom’s fate had been discussed previously, Sterk had the time to get an idea of what he’s looking for in a coaching candidate, and maybe even start to craft a list of names. However, without naming any names, Sterk discussed what kind of coach he thinks would be ideal.
“I think someone that brings a lot of energy and experience to the program, a leader, quality individual that has had success in leading a program or as a coordinator at a high level,” Sterk said.
He said, though experience coaching in the Power Five conferences and even in the Southeastern Conference would helpful, it was “not an absolute” as far the coaching search is concerned.
One of the most important factors in the decision was always going to be the reaction of the players. In public, all the players loved Odom and pulled for him to remain head coach. The players have said during the last coaching search after Gary Pinkel stepped down, many pulled for Odom, then the team’s defensive coordinator, to move into the role.
With the love the players had for him, giving them a chance to react and have their questions answered was and is important. And as was apparent on Twitter, some players were already expressing their displeasure with the decision.
Sterk said the plan was originally to get the players together after he met with Odom to give them the news. Many had already dispersed, though, so Sterk and other staffers decided a phone call would be the best way to communicate the news. The players’ reaction, Sterk said, was more “question marks” about what would happen as far as assistant coaches and the rest of the program, which is something that should be addressed once the new coach is hired.
Outside of the players already on the roster, keeping the current recruiting class together this close to the early signing period is of utmost importance. Many players who commit to a school realistically commit because of the coach, and as could be seen from the swift decommitment of 2020 defensive end Robert Wooten, a coach’s firing can turn players away quickly.
Sterk said the program would like to have a coach in place soon in order to have that extra help in locking down the class, but until that happens, the job is up to the staff still in place.
“We have 17 commitments (now 16 with Wooten’s decommitment),” Sterk said. “Coach (Brick) Haley is our interim head coach and he’s going to work on keeping those commitments in place, and we want to sign as many of those as we can and get in touch with a lot of those commits during the day.”
With his position at the school, Sterk knows how important this search is. Sterk isn’t blind to the fact that football is a huge factor, if not the biggest factor, in bringing money into the school. Ultimately, making the right choice for the new head coach is going factor into the money making process.
“It’s a very important hire for not only athletics, but the institution. We’re an economic driver as far as exposure to the institution but also to the region here,” Sterk said. “So, our economic impact, as I’ve looked at it with our South End Zone project, I think over the two years it was going to be somewhere in the neighborhood of $700 million. So it’s a huge impact to the athletics department and the university and the region.”
As far as buyouts for the coaching staff, Sterk said he expects most of the assistants to either be retained by the new hire or be brought in by other schools, which would offset buyouts. The most MU would have to pay out would be around $9 million, but Sterk expects the school to only have to pay about a third of that number.
Even with all the questions still left to be answered, though, Sterk said he’s excited about the future of Missouri football.
“Missouri has the resources to be a top 25 (team), consistently in the postseason, to compete for championships,” Sterk said. “Coach Pinkel showed that in the couple times he went to the championship game in the SEC. I think with the investment that we’ve made recently in our South End Zone project, it puts us on a level as far as facilities that are second to none. So I’m excited about the future.”