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Search firms, hiring histories, and the case for Barry Odom as Missouri's next head coach

An examination of the history and methods of previous Missouri coaching searches and Mack Rhoades' decision making process leads to one conclusion.

Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images

Let's talk a little bit about search firms.

The last major Missouri coaching search came when athletic director Mike Alden set out to replace Frank Haith as head basketball coach in 2014. Missouri paid Collegiate Sports Associates $42,500 (plus expenses) to find Kim Anderson, who was coaching at Central Missouri, 95 miles from Columbia.

Previously, Alden and the University of Missouri used the firm Eastman and Beaudine for searches, paying them $60,000 for what eventually became the Mike Anderson hire in 2006 and $50,000 for Frank Haith in 2011. No information was readily available to determine what, if any, coaching firms or consultants were used during Alden's search to replace Norm Stewart or Larry Smith early in his tenure.

We know that in 1999 Quin Snyder was selected after an interview process that met with Kim Anderson, Larry Drew, John Calipari (who withdrew himself from consideration) and then Tulsa coach Bill Self.

Going even further back, Alden, who had been the AD for two years at Southwest Texas State, was identified by a consultant named Chuck Neinas as a possible replacement for Joe Castiglione and interviewed with then-chancellor Richard Wallace in 1998. Neinas was a former Big 8 commissioner and would later serve as the interim commissioner for the Big 12.

Following Alden's decision to step down earlier this year, the University of Missouri and Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin employed the Miami-based firm Korn/Ferry International during the search for a new athletic director, one that resulted in the hire of Houston's Mack Rhoades (whom Loftin almost hired at Texas A&M in 2012). Korn/Ferry perhaps been most notably used in bringing Jim Harbaugh to Michigan, Charlie Strong to Texas, and Jim McElwain to Florida and is currently being used by the University of Miami in the search for Al Golden's replacement.

A lot of fans in general are skeptical about whether the benefit matches the costs with search firms.

Critics, though, suggest a search firm’s most valuable offerings are the very definition of an athletic director’s job – and, considering questions about the revenue stream of the NCAA, which is a tax-exempt nonprofit organization, is thought to be one of the clever ways schools funnel excess cash. "They have to spend it somewhere, and this is the silly stuff that it goes to," said David Berri, a sports economist and a professor at Southern Utah University. "As the money comes in, they find things to spend it on."

In fact, one of the first questions asked during Rhoades' press conference after Gary Pinkel announced his retirement was in regards to the hiring of a search firm. Rhoades' response:

"I haven’t decided yet on a search firm. I’ve used them in the past, and I’ve also not used search firms. So we’ll think through that. There’s probably some search firms at some other institutions that have had a head start and are using some particular firms. Right or wrong, I’m not sure I want to use a firm that’s already being used by another institution. If I use one, I want them 100-percent thinking about the University of Missouri. I want them eating, sleeping, drinking it. We’ll know here probably within the next three to five days whether we’ll go down the road with a search firm."

That would seem to rule out Korn/Ferry, among others, in Missouri's current coaching search.

We can speculate that deputy athletic director Wren Baker (formerly of Memphis), executive associate ADs Tim Hickman and Bryan Maggard, and perhaps Pinkel or associate AD Pat Ivey may have some input in the selection process. Rhoades was asked about that as well:

"This is not a one-man deal. I would like to think I’m perfect, but I’m not. I do like having two or three people with me that I really trust, that are great strategic thinkers and most of all are great at reading people and assessing people. So I’ll have two to three that will be with me throughout the process."

In addition to a small pool of confidants, Rhoades and the university are facing possible pressure to maintain the continuity and culture that Gary Pinkel built over the past 15 years, both on the coaching staff and on the recruiting trail. Asked about the idea of hiring someone who had no previous head coaching experience, Rhoades responded:

"I’d be open to hiring the best guy. And that could be an assistant. Searches are a journey. They really are. And I really enjoy doing them. You meet some unbelievable people. It’s about, again, fit. I never go into a search locked in on any one particular candidate. You just don’t, because I think it closes your mind to, maybe, that other candidate that’s a better fit. We’ll go into this with an open mind."

The facts bear this out. In 2012, Mack Rhoades made interim head coach Tony Levine Houston's official head coach, largely because of Levine's commitment to continuity. One of the key reasons was pressure to maintain a strong recruiting class, but the combination of Levine's lack of any coordinating experience with a 5-7 season in 2012 and consecutive five-loss seasons in 20113-14 were deemed unacceptable by a program that wanted to grow on the national level.

That leads us to Rhoades' most recent head coaching hire, former Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman.

Houston's search, however, was wide open. A lot of coaches wanted the job because it had launched Art Briles and Kevin Sumlin into Power Five gigs. Tony Levine hadn't worked out in the position, but he hadn't run the program aground, either. The Cougars still had good players capable of winning and a brand new on-campus stadium. Then-AD Mack Rhoades had plenty of options, and he used the SportSource tool along with his own contacts to help narrow those options. Rhoades eventually chose to hire Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman. Rhoades wasn't necessarily interested in hearing about potential candidates who might also happen to be SportSource clients, but the Houston group loved using the data tool to test theories and sharpen their focus on particular candidates. The data—especially the numbers for first-time head coaches—were also useful after Herman was identified to help Rhoades sell his choice to search committee members. Herman is now 10–0 at Houston after Saturday's comeback 35–34 win over Memphis.

Mack Rhoades during his press conference last week: "At the end of the day you could call every potential reference, talk to folks that are well vetted in this industry, you can look at analytics, all the past records, but at the end of the day, it’s really a gut feel. Again, it comes down to fit." Back to the piece linked above:

Rhoades has already examined the data carefully, so he knows how many myths it can bust. But Prather hopes other ADs will soon learn the same thing. During a recent demonstration for the tool, Prather offered to test the well-worn trope that a coach who attended a particular school is better equipped to succeed at that school than a coach who matriculated somewhere else. "They understand the culture," boosters and fans will say. But does that help them win more? Prather asked the tool to show all of the coaches hired between 2001-14 who played for or graduated from the schools that hired them. There were 15. Only four (Ralph Friedgen at Maryland, Mike Gundy at Oklahoma State, Pat Fitzgerald at Northwestern and David Shaw at Stanford) registered better winning percentages than the programs had posted in the previous five years. Prather then pointed out something else. Gundy, Fitzgerald and Shaw had something in common. They were internal hires. Gundy was promoted after Les Miles went to LSU. Fitzgerald was promoted after Randy Walker died. Shaw was promoted after Jim Harbaugh went to the San Francisco 49ers. They had all taken over programs that were already reasonably successful. So, did these coaches win because they were good fits who understood the culture of the school back to their undergraduate days? Or did they win because they were good coaches inheriting good staffs and good players who understood the (more recent) culture of success by virtue of already working for these teams?

The case for Barry Odom

The examples of Gundy, Fitzgerald and Shaw go a long way toward supporting Barry Odom's case for Missouri's next head football coach. The defensive numbers paint a picture of a very good defensive coach:

Passing Rushing Total Offense First Downs Penalties Turnovers
Rk School G Pts Cmp Att Pct Yds TD Att Yds Avg TD Plays Yds Avg Pass Rush Pen Tot No. Yds Fum Int TO
1 Wisconsin 11 12.4 14.5 29.5 49.1 164.0 0.5 31.9 102.3 3.2 0.9 61.4 266.3 4.3 8.1 4.8 1.3 14.2 8.1 70.5 0.6 0.7 1.4
2 Ohio State 11 14.1 14.5 29.6 49.1 164.3 1.0 39.2 133.7 3.4 0.7 68.8 298.0 4.3 6.5 7.5 1.5 15.6 5.4 40.5 0.7 0.9 1.6
3 Alabama 11 14.5 16.5 32.9 50.3 187.2 1.0 31.5 77.8 2.5 0.5 64.4 265.0 4.1 8.0 4.5 1.8 14.3 6.1 47.5 0.6 1.4 2.0
4 Florida 11 14.5 16.2 30.8 52.5 172.7 1.0 34.1 109.0 3.2 0.6 64.9 281.7 4.3 7.5 6.5 1.3 15.4 4.9 35.4 0.9 1.3 2.2
5 Boston College 11 14.8 14.6 27.9 52.4 178.9 0.7 33.6 77.2 2.3 0.5 61.5 256.1 4.2 7.5 4.2 1.8 13.5 6.5 53.0 0.8 1.2 2.0
6 Michigan 11 14.9 14.7 31.0 47.5 162.7 0.5 32.4 100.4 3.1 0.6 63.4 263.1 4.2 7.6 6.0 2.5 16.2 5.6 51.2 0.2 0.7 0.9
7 Missouri 11 15.1 18.9 30.6 61.7 175.4 0.9 39.3 125.9 3.2 0.6 69.9 301.3 4.3 8.4 7.9 1.4 17.6 5.5 54.5 0.6 0.7 1.4
8 Marshall 11 15.6 17.1 35.9 47.6 186.2 0.8 42.7 171.2 4.0 0.9 78.6 357.4 4.5 7.9 10.1 2.4 20.4 6.1 51.0 1.0 1.3 2.3
9 Northwestern 11 16.6 18.9 34.6 54.6 188.3 0.5 34.5 121.5 3.5 1.4 69.1 309.7 4.5 8.3 7.3 1.3 16.8 4.3 35.9 0.8 1.0 1.8
10 San Diego State 11 16.8 15.3 28.7 53.2 185.0 1.3 33.9 100.5 3.0 0.7 62.6 285.5 4.6 7.6 5.9 2.9 16.5 5.0 41.4 0.9 1.6 2.5
11 Florida State 11 17.0 18.6 32.5 57.3 190.5 1.1 36.4 143.1 3.9 0.6 68.9 333.6 4.8 9.4 7.6 1.2 18.2 5.7 49.2 0.6 0.6 1.3

The advanced metrics currently rank Missouri's defense in the S&P+ Top 10:

Team Def. S&P+ Rk Rushing
Rk Passing
Rk Success
Rk IsoPPP+ Rk
Alabama 9.6 1 159.8 1 153.2 1 155.3 1 148.5 3 155.9 1 155.2 1
Michigan 11.7 2 123.8 9 126.0 11 121.8 6 129.8 10 127.0 5 123.1 12
Boston College 12.7 3 158.1 2 116.2 20 116.1 19 163.5 1 137.6 2 130.8 5
Clemson 14.4 4 122.0 11 143.0 2 137.9 2 116.2 28 134.4 3 131.1 4
Northwestern 14.8 5 117.2 22 127.2 9 115.0 22 133.2 9 117.3 15 125.9 9
Florida 14.9 6 129.5 3 129.6 7 115.5 21 153.7 2 124.3 10 132.3 3
Wisconsin 15.3 7 120.7 13 120.5 16 120.0 10 121.3 19 113.4 23 124.1 11
Ohio State 16.7 8 115.7 30 142.1 3 122.4 5 137.2 6 126.5 7 129.9 6
Georgia 18.3 9 115.8 27 111.7 32 116.6 17 106.9 51 114.0 22 113.4 30
Missouri 18.4 10 124.7 6 115.0 25 118.5 13 119.6 22 111.8 31 127.1 7
Team Rk Nat'l Average
Std. Downs Run Rate 58.6% 76 60.0%
Pass. Downs Run Rate 40.4% 16 33.6%
Overall Havoc Rate 20.0% 15 16.2%
DL Havoc Rate 8.8% 4 5.1%
LB Havoc Rate 5.2% 43 4.5%
DB Havoc Rate 6.0% 74 6.4%
PD to INC 38.0% 22 32.7%

Combine that with the turnaround he created as defensive coordinator at Memphis:

Odom has been defensive coordinator and safeties coach at Memphis for the past three seasons, where he has orchestrated an impressive body of work by the Tiger defense. Memphis just concluded a 10-3 season that was fueled largely by Odom's defense which ranked fifth nationally in scoring defense (17.1 ppg) and 22nd in total defense (343.3 ypg) heading into bowl season. That marked an astounding incremental improvement, as Memphis ranked 117th nationally in total defense in 2011 prior to Odom assuming the reins. In 2012, Odom's first year, the Tiger defense improved to 50th nationally in total defense (383.6 ypg), followed by a jump to 39th in 2013 (370.7 ypg). Memphis earned a share of the 2014 American Athletic Conference title, giving them a conference championship for the first time since 1971.

His former boss, Justin Fuente praised him.

"It’s not if, it’s just when. When he gets that opportunity he’s going to be very successful. I know he’s been preparing for it and training for it. When that opportunity comes along someone’s going to be very happy they hired him."

His current boss, Gary Pinkel praises him.

"Although I think Odom would do a great job."

It's clear that Barry Odom is a "good" coach. Missouri would be be making the internal hire of a good coach who, through virtue of his playing career and having twice worked as a coach under Gary Pinkel and alongside many of Missouri's current assistant coaches, understands the culture of success. Part of that is retaining key members of the current staff, like defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski, who Odom praised here,

"I've said it a million times since January. I believe he's the best in the country at what he does. I don't think there's any question if you look at the players who have been developed at all four defensive line spots over the last 15 years. It's unmatched."

Odom's promotion would allow for Kuligowski to assume the defensive coordinator position many believe he desires. Additionly, retaining safeties coach Ryan Walters, who came with Odom from Memphis, would maintain a strong continuity within Mizzou's defense, its most consistent side. A team where many players have already come out and expressed their support via social media.

Just yesterday Odom told the media, "I’m going to be a head coach. Don’t know when, don’t know where. That’s what I want to do."

He later went on to say, "it would be a such a great opportunity to represent this athletic program, this university and state. It’d be awesome. No question."

Mack Rhoades has a huge decision to make, but the decision might end up seeming pretty clear.