No matter what sport you play, every athlete runs into a coach or two who changes the game for them. For me, those coaches came from all different levels of competition, dating back to little league, Pop Warner, through high school, and ultimately through my time at Mizzou from 2007 to 2011.
This has been an emotional, yet interesting week for me in that two of those coaches have left their posts.
The week began with the firing of Coach Barry Odom, whom I would consider one of those coaches. Secondly, my former high school coach Tom Kruse at Raymore-Peculiar High School, a guy who spent the past 20 years at the high school as the Head Football Coach and AD decided it was time to step down. He led us to three straight state championship titles from 2004-2006. It was actually Coach Kruse who gave me the blessing to go after my dream to play at the Division I level, and I just happened to pick the very school where Coach Odom was coaching.
Everything seems to work together in this thing called football, and as my career has come full circle — I’m now a football coach myself at Avila University in Kansas City, MO — I find myself still needing that guidance from the men that brought me to where I am. The firing of Coach Odom came as a surprise to me, coming off a win that — had it not been for the NCAA— would have made Mizzou bowl-eligible. I understand that this is a business and that not everyone feels the same when the team has the emotional roller coaster of a season we’ve just seen, but nevertheless, I believe Coach Odom deserved more time.
In the summer of 2007, I was a walk-on kid, pretty much doing the unthinkable, and simply “invited” myself to practices. I was slated to begin my career as a Mizzou football player the first day of school in August of that year, yet thanks to my mom and my stubborn attitude, I was able to get hotel rooms in CoMo. That way, I could drive in from KC, stay in a hotel, wake up, and go physically watch practices. I had two former high school teammates in Derrick Washington and Chase Coffman already there practicing, and much like them, I’m sure all the other players thought I was crazy for doing what I was doing.
Coach Odom was no exception. I was watching the Tight Ends go against the Linebackers in board drill one day, and apparently I was standing too close. Coach Odom, in all his stern and competitive nature, waved his hand at me and screamed, “Get off the field!”
Of course I listened, but from that day, when I finally got started as a player, he treated me with nothing but the utmost respect. He wasn’t my position coach. In fact, we were on opposite sides of the building with our meeting rooms. Yet as a walk-on kid, he made me feel valued even in the smallest ways. For me, it took a simple, “Hey, what’s goin’ on, TD?” to get my spirits up. That was Coach Odom.
With college football being the business that it is, I realize that being a nice guy won’t keep your job. This business is results driven. If you don’t produce quickly, your time could be up. Many of the Mizzou faithful called for Odom’s head during his first season. To me, that was absurd. I’m a guy who loves giving people chances, just like Coach Pinkel gave me— and just like Coach Odom gave me. He demanded the best, he demanded results, but he was fair.
When it comes to producing quality men and quality football players, it’s one of those “real recognize real” situations. Top recruits have decommitted from Mizzou upon hearing Coach Odom was relieved of duty. This speaks to the type of man and coach he is, as they didn’t even have the chance to really play for him and get to know him. These are high school kids who understand the type of coach he is, and were called on to carry on the tradition of winning football games at this university.
Several old teammates like Sean Weatherspoon and Jeremy Maclin have spoken out as well this week. Consensus is that this was a bad move. This is nothing against Jim Sterk, as he ultimately has to do what he feels is best for the athletic department. However, from the perspective of the players past, current, and future, it becomes a situation where we see something he doesn’t. I’m sure there are players wondering what they could’ve done differently throughout the season to preserve his legacy here as a Tiger. From his playing days in the 90s to his coaching career beginning right here in Columbia, it seemed only right that he would return and right the ship.
But great things take time. Odom had four seasons to prove his worth in the form of wins, and he wasn’t done. This move was made prematurely, amidst the growing frustrations of the Mizzou faithful. The fans deserved to be frustrated — the Tigers didn’t reflect their true potential, and that’s a fact. However, Odom inherited a firestorm of a job — amidst the hunger strike, national racial tension surrounding the university, the NCAA ruling, and more — and he was doing the best he could in rebuilding the image of Missouri, a place that personally means a lot to him. And he still means a lot to those of us that had the chance to work with him.
If schools are this quick to realize that Coach Odom is a valuable asset and Missouri is still in search of finding someone to fill his recently removed shoes, it speaks to the fact that he is not only just a great coach, but that Mizzou truly did drop the ball in letting him go this early. Rest assured that whomever comes in next will not change the program overnight. It will be a fight just like the fight it takes to win a single game at this level.
At the end of the day, Coach Barry Odom will always be a Tiger, regardless of the shirt he wears hereafter.