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The case against hiring Barry Odom

The thought of hiring Barry Odom to replace Gary Pinkel is certainly an appealing one. But there are still some obvious reasons for hesitation.

It's pretty obvious that most of what I'll (hilariously) call the RMN hierarchy are either rooting for Missouri to hire Barry Odom to replace Gary Pinkel, or are at least totally okay with the idea.

Even for those who hesitant about Odom, the draw should be pretty obvious.

1. He's been awesome in just about every job he's held. He immediately resurrected the Memphis defense in his first coordinator gig; after ranking 117th in Def. S&P+ the year before he arrived with Justin Fuente, he engineered a No. 61 ranking in 2012, No. 40 in 2013, and No. 23 in 2014, in the first year post-Odom, Memphis has fallen to No. 69. Plus, despite turnover up front, he inherited a Missouri defense that ranked 15th last year and has them ranked, yes, 15th this year.

2. He has received massive endorsements from each of his last two bosses, Fuente and Pinkel. He is well-regarded as a tactician, a recruiter, and potential administrator. He was seen by some as Mizzou's best recruiter during his first Pinkel stint, and he was generally thought of as a steady, organized position coach. We don't yet know what his weaknesses are because he hasn't shown them yet.

3. He's a Mizzou guy. There's a chance that, if he's good at the job, he'd stay forever in the job.

That last point is a tie-breaker and nothing else, mind you. Your goal has to be to find an awesome coach first, then figure out the "he might stay" thing. But items 1-2 make him qualified. And for many, no. 3 simply pushes him over the top.

So yeah, if Mack Rhoades were to announce this very moment that he was hiring Odom, that would be perfectly fine with me and many others. But Odom doesn't have the job yet and might not get it. So let's make the alternate case for a moment. There are plenty of valid reasons for hiring someone other than Odom.

Big-time experience is big-time

A while back at Football Outsiders, I took a look at the correlations between coaches with different types of backgrounds and their success or failure as head coaches. As you would expect, there's almost no correlation. Each job is so unique, and just because two guys were both offensive coordinators (or whatever) doesn't mean they're more or less likely to succeed than two random former defensive coordinators.

That said, there was a slight correlation between success and previous power-conference head coaching experience.

It was only slight, of course. There are plenty of retreads out there who probably shouldn't have gotten another big gig (see: Weis, Charlie), but it appears that a guy who has racked up previous experience as a large-school head coach might be slightly more likely to succeed than the rest of the field.

A couple of weeks ago, I took a quick look at power conference head coaches who could maybe be drawn away from their current employer with the right situation/offer:

This is total, abject speculation -- I want to make that as clear as possible -- but here's a list of some power-conference coaches who are currently doing pretty well and either a) have known issues with their athletic director and might be open to a change in scenery, or b) could probably make more at Mizzou than at their current employer:

  • Dave Doeren, N.C. State
  • Sonny Dykes, California
  • Larry Fedora, North Carolina
  • Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern
  • Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State
  • Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia
  • Mike Leach, Washington State
  • Rich Rodriguez, Arizona
  • Kyle Whittingham, Utah

If some name comes out of the blue, it'll probably be one of these. But none have obvious Mizzou ties. At most, one guy from this list becomes a candidate. The more likely number is zero.

Aside from some slight buzz regarding Fedora, nothing's really come of anything. But when I wrote that list, I didn't Mark Richt wasn't on the market. Richt might be an interesting name for Rhoades to investigate. He quite obviously has a lot of ties to Missouri's recruiting area, he's incredibly well-respected, and as I wrote this morning at SBN, he was the engineer of one of only two teams that ranked in the F/+ top 15 each year from 2011-14. (He quite obviously didn't pull off that feat in 2015.)

Richt's track record when it comes to hiring assistants is scattershot -- he's been successful enough that he's lost plenty of assistants to other jobs, but he also made more shaky, controversial hires, like Wille Martinez as his defensive coordinator (2006-09) and Brian Schottenheimer as his offensive coordinator (2015). Still, his success is obvious, and he's only 55. Maybe his ceiling gets tamped down by the simple fact that Missouri's history and recruiting radius isn't quite as strong as Georgia's, but he's obviously a good coach. And he's obviously now available.

Growing pains and 2017

Gary Pinkel retires in the 2017-20 range, and Barry Odom (who's probably spent the last few seasons as a head coach elsewhere) becomes the natural successor with a little more experience under his belt. That's the way many assumed the head coach progression would go for Missouri. Granted, we don't know if Mack Rhoades thought that way, but it made sense ... right up until Gary Pinkel retired earlier than expected.

So even if Rhoades was on the "Odom, eventually" bandwagon, he now has a choice to make: Do you give Odom the job earlier than expected (and here's a reminder that Odom not only doesn't have head coaching experience but also has only four years of coordinator experience), or do you find someone else?

If you think Odom's the right guy, then from a long-term perspective, it doesn't hurt that much to let him suffer a few growing pains at first. Pat Fitzgerald was thrust into the Northwestern head coaching position earlier than expected because of the sudden, tragic death of Randy Walker, and he went 10-14 in his first two seasons before gaining traction. But even with 5-7 campaigns in both 2013 and 2014, he's still preparing for his sixth bowl in eight years and has won 10 games in both 2012 and 2015. As well-regarded as Walker and Gary Barnett were, they combined to pull off only four winning seasons in their 14 seasons in charge in Evanston.

So learning on the job can be fine, even if it's a little bit frustrating in the present tense.

That said, there's the little matter of 2017. When Missouri played Arkansas last week, the Tigers' depth chart featured 19 freshmen, redshirt freshmen, and sophomores on offense and 14 on defense. That doesn't include freshman DT Terry Beckner Jr., redshirt freshman safety Tavon Ross, or DT Harold Brantley, who with a medical redshirt will only be a junior next season.

Whoever takes this job will inherit a team that is strong on defense next season and will be, at the very least, experienced on both sides of the ball in 2017. If you are thinking that maybe Odom has some growing pains to work through, to the point where you maybe don't peak in 2017 as planned, then maybe that's a good reason to look elsewhere for someone more experienced and, in theory, more likely to stick the landing in '17.

The offense needs the help

You have to admit, the thought of bringing in an offensive wizard is pretty appealing. Whoever takes the job will, again, inherit one hell of a defense in 2016, with Charles Harris (in theory), Harold Brantley, Terry Beckner Jr., Walter Brady, Josh Augusta, etc., up front. Michael Scherer and Donavin Newsom at linebacker, Aarion Penton at corner, Anthony Sherrils at safety, etc. If someone like Dino Babers (or any of the other more offense-friendly names on the board) were to walk in the door with ideas to fix the offense without breaking the defense, the chance for immediate success is enormous.

Now, I do not for even one moment assume that Odom would retain Josh Henson and/or anybody from the offensive staff (besides maybe Andy Hill, who has tenure), simply out of some sense of loyalty. Odom has always struck me as a pragmatic type who wouldn't hamstring his own efforts because he's loyal to guys his former boss hired. I think he would bring in new blood, and for all we know, he'd make hires as well as Bob Stoops did when he showed up in Norman in 1999 (Mark Mangino, Mike Leach, etc.).

Still, there's faith associated with that thought. Bringing in a guy with an offensive track record to lead the way has its obvious draw. And it could lead to immediate success with minimal growing pains. Maybe that's a Babers, maybe it's a Sonny Dykes or Dana Holgorsen. Regardless, that's certainly an appealing thought.