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Editorial Bored: Evaluating Barry Odom’s young career

Our football writers look back on the first three years of Odom ahead of his biggest season yet.

Missouri v Kentucky

Welcome to Editorial Bored, a weekly Rock M Nation roundtable getting you through the desert of summer by looking ahead to the coming year in Mizzou Sports.

Nine months ago, Mizzou was coming off a brutal loss to Kentucky and Barry Odom’s job was in question by the wider Mizzou fanbase. After four straight wins and a Top 25 finish, Odom is now the guy for the foreseeable future. Give us your thoughts on the Odom tenure thus far.

Ryan Herrera, Football Beat Writer: It’s sort of hard to come up with a clear conclusion on how Odom’s tenure has gone. As with any new coach, Odom’s teams struggled — especially during the first year-and-a-half. He also struggled to get big recruiting wins early on, and it wasn’t until last season against Florida that an Odom-led team beat a ranked opponent, even with Drew Lock running the offense the entire team.

But heading into year four, it seems like the atmosphere surrounding Odom and Missouri is shifting in the right direction. He managed to snag Kelly Bryant from the transfer portal, even with other Southeastern Conference programs trying to recruit him, and he’s picked up a ton of the top St. Louis-area recruits, with the 2020 class being headlined by Antonio Doyle. On the field, we’ve seen back-to-back great Novembers from the Tigers. Missouri isn’t on Alabama or Georgia’s level, but Odom now has his team in a position to compete in the SEC East.

So what would I say Odom’s tenure has been like thus far? Not always pretty, but steadily improving.

Mitch Hill, Social Media Editor: This has been said before, but it is worth repeating: when Odom took over there really wasn’t a whole lot to work with, in my opinion. Incoming classes, for the most part, fell short of expectations, and a couple of those classes were brought in off of trips to Atlanta and the momentum that followed. So, the odds were not great to say the least. There is also the whole idea about the slow starts. Those have just killed the team in terms of maximizing success each season. There are some clock management issues and in-game adjustments that you can question, but Odom is still a young coach. I believe Odom has really found his footing, and it’s starting to show in some of his recruiting. I am confident Odom can lead this team to higher levels, but it does take some time. Hopefully this season will realize all of that promise many have been hoping for.

Sammy Stava, Lead Football Writer: It’s been mediocre so far. I mean, the record says what he is at the moment — 19-19 through the first three seasons. That’s not a knock on him at all; it takes time to build a program, especially in football, and he had to take over a very tough situation. Making a bowl game is easy nowadays, but he has gone to two bowl games in his first three years as a head coach in the toughest conference in College Football, so that’s promising. From 4-8 to 7-6 to 8-5, there’s been progress every year, which is what you want to see from a fairly new HC. There’s no doubt this program is on the upswing, and Barry Odom is currently the right man for this job. As a grade, I’d give his tenure so far a B-.

Vanderbilt v Missouri Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Odom has often been criticized for his in-game tactics, but his strengths as a motivator and recruiter have never been more evident. If you could highlight the biggest strength and weakness of HCBO, what would they be?

Ryan Herrera: His biggest strength to me has been building a culture, and that can be seen pretty clearly if you look at the way the Tigers have come together over the last year. First came Bryant’s commitment, which solved Missouri’s quarterback issue — at least for the year — and turned the Tigers into a place high-profile players could want to transfer to. Then, after the sanctions handed down by the NCAA in January, Odom lost no seniors and only one player overall to the transfer portal. This seems like a tight-knit group who want to play with (and for) each other. Cale Garrett might have said it best with his “the grass isn’t always greener” comment at the SEC media days. You have to create a culture before you can create a winner, and it seems like Odom has the first part down.

His biggest weakness, so far, has been establishing a lock-down defense, especially in the secondary. He’s had guys like DeMarkus Acy that have improved a ton in the past few years, but it’s always seemed like Missouri’s defensive woes come back to the secondary. We’re now at the point where most of the Gary Pinkel guys are gone and Odom’s guys should be taking the reins of the team, but most of Odom’s guys in the secondary have yet to become standouts. Christian Holmes, Adam Sparks, Joshuah Bledsoe and Tyree Gillespie are all juniors now, and sure, they still have time to turn into those standouts we’ve been waiting to see. And heck, a guy like Jalani Williams could break out in a hurry. But we still haven’t seen Odom put a shut-down secondary on the field, and that needs to happen sooner rather than later.

Mitch Hill: As mentioned above, there are times say when you have a couple timeouts left, and about 60 yards to go before halftime. With an offense like the one Mizzou had last year, I would like to see those timeouts used to go for some bonus points before the break. It’s that — and other game management elements — that I believe are his largest weaknesses. However, like I said in the first question, he is still kind of young and has shown improvement.

As for his biggest strength, it has to be getting everyone to buy into the system and the culture he and his staff are building. PLENTY of players could have transferred when the NCAA announced the sanctions, but no one (of great importance) did. In today’s world of College Football, that speaks volumes to Odom and his staff.

Sammy Stava: The biggest strength I see in Barry Odom is that he doesn’t lose his teams. They could have easily folded in the game against Arkansas in 2016, and they could have easily folded when they started the 2017 season 1-5. He’s a great finisher to the season, and for some reason, Missouri just keeps playing their best football toward the end of the year.

The biggest weakness is the preparation. He’s 0-4 coming off a regular-season bye week, 0-2 in bowl games, and a combined 6-12 in the first half of the season. As great as the finishes to the season have been, the slow starts are that much more worrisome. The Florida win last season was big time, and now he needs to get some more signature/notable wins under his belt.

As is the case with a veteran lead team and a star transfer quarterback, expectations have never been higher for Odom’s program. What is your baseline expectation for Odom as he takes this team into the 2019 season?

Ryan Herrera: I think eight or nine wins is the realistic expectation, with anything above being fantastic and anything below being a disappointment. And I also think that a .500 or above record against ranked teams — assuming Georgia isn’t the only ranked opponent Missouri plays — has to happen. We didn’t let Odom and Co. get away with losing to ranked teams the last few seasons, and now with the heightened expectations on this team, there won’t be any forgiveness if Odom’s teams can’t get it done this season. The time is now for Odom to show that eight or nine win teams should be the expectation every year, so anything less than that won’t reflect too kindly on him.

Mitch Hill: Eight wins is the baseline, and nine is what I’m expecting from a pretty favorable schedule. This is a great year for Odom and Co. to show off everything they’ve been talking about finally coming to the light. Having high expectations, to me, is way better than no expectations. It makes people care more, and I think Odom is up for the challenge of meeting them.

Sammy Stava: Bowl game or not, when you only get one season of Kelly Bryant, you have to make the most of it. And if they do, that can do wonders for recruiting and the future of the program. I just haven’t felt this much excitement from the fan base going into a season since maybe 2013-2014, so this is the year where Barry Odom and Missouri need to deliver big things. With that being said, my baseline expectation record is 9-3. An 8-4 finish wouldn’t be disastrous, but it wouldn’t show any improvement from last season with a completely easier schedule this time around.