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I’m Not Sure About His Future, But Respect to Barry Odom for Saving Mizzou’s Season

Let’s start with this: If you blasted Mizzou football coach Barry Odom earlier in the season, there is absolutely no reason to feel guilty or ashamed or disloyal. There is no reason to post some overwrought apology on the web, or make arrangements to submit to a public caning.

So stop with that silliness.

The harsh criticism of Odom was honest, correct and completely justified.

And if you don’t think so, then I wish you well in your recovery from being spayed or neutered.

As Mizzou bumbled and lurched and went spinning in a maddening cycle of confusion and chaos during a hideous 1-5 start to the season, Odom was a lost coach. A bad coach. Too small to play the big room.

Mizzou wasn’t just losing games … Mizzou was an embarrassment.

That’s what I call it when Mizzou’s incapacitated defense gets tasered to the ground during a 35-point, first-half attack by Missouri State?  … wait … did you say Missouri State? Yes. Embarrassing.

Losing by 32 at home to a Purdue program that had a 9-39 record from 2013 through 2016? Yes. Embarrassing.

Losing your first two SEC home games of 2017 by an average margin of 25.5 points? Yes. Embarrassing.

Coach Odom’s awkward firing of a defensive coordinator that he himself had hired … with Odom watching as his personal choice for DC installed an ill-fitting scheme that emasculated a legitimately tough MU defense? And even after Odom took over the Tiger defense, the unit continued to be plowed under by physical teams, or ripped apart by competent quarterbacks. Wasn’t defense supposed to be Odom’s area of expertise? Yes. It was embarrassing.

As were all of the empty seats for home games.

And watching Mizzou football being ridiculed nationally.

It was embarrassing to witness MU sinking to the bottom of the 14-team SEC, down to getting mashed into the seabed.

The overwhelmed Odom probably wouldn’t get a three-and-out from his bosses. Unless something changed, and soon, the MU administration may have punted Odom after year two.

I have no problem or hesitation in restating my views on Odom six games into this season: unless something dramatically good happens, he’s gotta go. He isn’t going to make it. Cut the losses now, and get a jump on finding a new leader for 2018.

And if I had to go back in time and do it all over again …

I would still think and write and say the same thing on Odom: gotta go unless he gets the Tigers on track in a hurry.

You won’t catch me trying to revise history.

Odom wasn’t going to get sacked during the season; Mizzou AD Jim Sterk made it clear that he wanted to ride out the season and do an evaluation.

In theory, Odom would have a chance to make some progress, maybe win a few games, and give Sterk and the MU administration a reason to go forward in a third season. I don’t think Sterk wanted to fire Odom, so it wouldn’t take all that much for the Coach to hold onto his job.

I didn’t think Odom was capable of turning this team around, in season … and I was less confident in this possibility of the turnaround after he made the impassioned speech (after getting squashed by Auburn) about how he would turn the danged thing around.

No way. I supported Odom’s hiring. I was criticized for supporting his hiring. I wanted him to succeed. But yo, I wasn’t insane. If it isn’t working out, and Mizzou was on hopelessly on the ground as an SEC footwipe … then what’s the point? There’s no reason to stay the course when it’s demolition course. It would be worse to have the program endure greater damage.

I wasn’t wrong about that.

I wasn’t wrong to criticize Odom … or to lose confidence in Odom.

But I was wrong about this:

Odom was capable of pulling off a midseason turnabout …

And winning five consecutive games … by an average score of 52 to 17, no less … and rallying from the lowest point of the season (and his career) to get to six wins and become bowl eligible  … and having an excellent chance of winning at Arkansas later this week to put a cap on a 7-5 season.

I didn’t think Odom would outlast Jim McElwain (Florida) or Butch Jones (Tennessee). And with more firings coming, I didn’t think Odom would go into 2018 with only six SEC coaches ahead of him in conference seniority. I didn’t think that Mizzou would be 5-5 in its last SEC games, or that the Tigers would move up to No. 36 in ESPN’s Football Power Index.

I didn’t think that Missouri would need just a win at Arkansas to end the campaign with a 4-4 SEC record.  And that isn’t the goal, either. To be No. 36. To be .500 in the SEC. Do you see me organizing a tribute dinner? Of course not.

But here is something that the hardheads and loons fail to grasp: when your team is the sorriest, most pathetic, most woeful program in the SEC … when your program has disintegrated into a laughingstock… you don’t go from being an SEC rodeo clown to rising up to take down Nick Saban’s Alabama empire in a year. When your program has fallen into disgrace, and you can get it to 4-4 in one season, that’s acceptable to me or any reasonable, rational person.

Yeah, we want Mizzou to climb a lot higher than No. 36 in the FPI, but being 36th in the FPI is fine for now considering that the Tigers were ranked in the high 80s in the FPI earlier this season. What, you think a team is a failure if it goes from No. 87 to No. 36 in five weeks?

And just so we understand each other … I’m not saying Odom has solved every problem, put every concern to rest, and proven what he needed to prove to earned longterm job security.

Hell, no.

Coach Odom has many tests ahead, many obstacles in the way. He faces challenges that will be in place for a while. Recruiting. Getting fans pumped up to improve the business of Mizzou football. Several SEC programs are actively searching for new coaches, or will be soon. The conference athletic directors have done a horrible job of hiring coaches over the last decade or so. But what if some of the newer ADs get it right, and hit the head-coach jackpot?

Suppose Florida and Tennessee finally bring in the coaches who will restore the underachieving programs to confidence? When and if there’s a substantial upgrade in the overall quality of the coaching in the SEC, can Barry Odom keep up? Personally, I wouldn’t bet on it.

So if you think this is one of those predictable columns in which the author switches from a stance of ODOM  MUST  GO … to ODOM  IS GREAT … ODOM WILL RULE THE SEC  for a decade.

Again … hell, no.

Coach Odom will get a third season. He will have a chance to build on the late-season advances and the unexpected bowling trip.  Let’s see what he does with it. There is no reason to make advance judgments on 2018.

But this coach deserves respect for saving his team’s season, and probably saving his job. I owe him that much. Respect. Anyone who cares about Mizzou owes him that much.

When a coach is mired in hard times, and it doesn’t seem like he’ll find a way out, then all you can do is monitor the struggle and see how he takes on adversity. You hope — as the cliche goes — that adversity will make him stronger. I’m always curious to see if inexperienced head coaches will recognize the need to change, put their egos aside, quit being so stupidly stubborn, eat their pride to adjust and adapt and evolve …

Instead of striking a pose and declaring “I know I’m right and I’ll do it my way.” That’s what insecure coaches do. That’s what lightweights do to overcompensate. That’s what awful coaches do. The coaches that never grow, never get better, and never adapt. The coaches who are signing off on their own termination papers, and aren’t smart enough to know it.

Odom has proven one thing this season, and he deserves praise for it: YES he could handle adversity. He kicked adversity’s ass.

What I won’t do is downgrade the five-game winning streak because it’s been sequenced with victories over Idaho, Connecticut, Florida, Tennessee and Vanderbilt. Idaho is going to the FCS next season! UConn sucks! Florida just fired the coach and is packing it in! Tennessee is terrible and the dumbo coach will be fired any day now! Vanderbilt ain’t nothing! And if the Tigers win at Arkansas, so what! Their coach is about to get the big haircut and the Hogs stink!

The goal is to WIN A NATIONAL TITLE!

Yeah? You thought Mizzou had a chance to win the national title in 2017?

(Breaking for a few seconds here to laugh.) 

Mizzouri does not have to apologize for beating distressed teams, slumping teams, inferior teams, and programs being led by exit-ramp coaches. Missouri doesn’t have to disavow the victories after whomping Florida by 29, Tennessee by 33, and Vandy by 28.

Reasons:

(1) If you are making progress, then you are SUPPOSED to take advantage of opponents that have been brought down by turmoil, ineffective coaching, or thinning talent. When you have just gotten out of a tire fire of your own making, and you can put a beatdown on any SEC team, I think that’s desirable.

(2) Of course, if Mizzou had lost these games to Florida, Tennessee and Vanderbilt, the same goofs who are disparaging the wins would be the first in line to whine about Odom and demanding his imprisonment for LOSING to those teams. You can’t have it both ways, my nimrod pals.

(3) Why should Missouri feel guilty about slapping Florida and Tennessee around? Ever heard of Steve Spurrier, Tim Tebow, Urban Meyer, Peyton Manning, Jason Witten? Do you see national championship banners at Faurot Field? Florida and Tennessee have some. Was Mizzou ranked this season? Nope. Florida was ranked. Tennessee was ranked. Vanderbilt was coming off an encouraging 2016. Yeah, so by all means, let’s penalize Missouri for MOVING AHEAD of Florida, Tennessee and Vandy. Because Mizzou is a CFB dynasty, right? Mizzou is right up there with Notre Dame in terms of history and iconic status. Who needs Knute Rockne when you’ve had leaders such as Woody Widenhofer?  Mizzou football is right up there with those incredible Bud Wilkinson teams at Oklahoma. When we talk about the most esteemed programs in CFB existence, Mizzou football is is frequently mentioned as an equivalent to Bear Bryant’s Alabama Crimson Tide.

(4) Before the season, or after the 1-5 start, if someone told you Mizzou would knock off three consecutive SEC opponents by an average of 30 points … you would have laughed. And then you would have accused the messenger of being demented. Clinically insane. And then you would have said, “I’d be happy with that.”

(5) I’m sorry; I must have been in a coma when Missouri football turned into Alabama football, or Georgia football, or Auburn football or LSU football. I thought the Tigers were a sliding program. I thought they were destined to failure and punishment for the foreseeable future. You know, a program desperate for wins. Desperate to gain traction. Desperate to beat some team that isn’t say, Delaware State. I didn’t realize that wiping out Florida, Tennessee and Vanderbilt was beneath Mizzou’s standards, and below Mizzou’s dignity. I thought this was a program on the brink of collapse instead of being on the verge of making it to another college football playoff. These wins do count, right? Hey, I believed Herm Edwards when he hollered “You play to win the game!” I guess I made the mistake of thinking that ANY conference win was a good win for Mizzou. What the hell was I possibly thinking?

OK, I’ll stop with the annoying sarcasm now …

The ESPN metrics for each CFB team include a Game Score; it judges the quality of a team’s performance in that contest. A score of 0 is the worst, and 100 is the best. And — this is important — the game scores account for the strength of the opponent. In other words, if you beat a bad team, then you won’t receive as much credit as when you defeat a good team.

Mizzou’s game scores in the wins over Florida, Tennessee and Vandy were impressive relative to the program’s downward phase through 2015, 2016 and over the first six games of 2017. Mizzou was a given a score of 86 after the Florida win, 77 after the Tennessee win, 84 after the Vandy win. The MU program hadn’t attained three consecutive game scores above 75 since 2014, when Gary Pinkel led the Tigers to their second SEC straight SEC East title.

Mizzou is playing much better football. Odom kept his team together. At the most depressing point of the season, when morale is so fragile and quick to erode, the players didn’t quit on Odom. That’s worthy of respect. I still don’t know if Odom will be an effective coach longterm, but given the carnage that piled up during the abysmal 1-5 start, I didn’t think Odom could pull the Tigers up, and push them to a 6-5 record. I can’t worry about what he can do or should do in 2018.

The only thing I can look at right now is 2017. And this coach had a football crisis on his hands. He didn’t succumb. He fought through it, and his players followed. And as a tough critic of Odom earlier this season, I see no reason to withhold praise and be a sniveling, petty, wormy hypocrite. Odom deserves a positive shoutout for his work in reviving a dead football season at Mizzou.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

  • M W

    Agreed. He did one heck of a job to keep his kids motivated when they were struggling so badly.

    The issue for Odom is that he can’t recruit. That’s going to be his undoing.

    • JohnS

      He reminds me of “Sluggo” in the Nancy comic strip….

    • Jim Lahey

      Don’t be so sure about the can’t recruit comment. Many of the difference makers on this team are his recruits. I reserve judgement for now.

  • Jt Parker

    First of all, they won’t beat Arkansas if they are like you Bernie and think they stink. They will be the best team Mizzou has played since Georgia. Secondly, if Odom can continue to motivate and get his defense to play like the have during this win streak I would say he CAN coach. As long as he keeps a good offensive coordinator and recruits Mizzou will be fine. The eye test tells me right now when playing with emotion Mizzou is an upper tier SEC team that would scare the socks off any of the others. They did not just win the last five games they dominated.

    My concern is they will play flat at Arkansas because they have spent a lot of mental and emotional energy getting to 6 wins. If the are truly a top team they will put it on Arkansas. But they better not take them lightly.

  • rightthinker4

    If Odom wins he will get recruits to Mizzou.

  • badgerboy23

    Give Odom credit for not allowing this team to self implode. But lets do away with the idea that the SEC–especially the bottom of the SEC–is the best conference in football. The top teams? Fine. Missouri was–as Bernie stated–horrendously embarrassing. So they blow up two blood donors and then blow up Florida, Tennessee and Vandy. In my mind that just proved that there are at least 3 teams in the SEC that are more horrendously embarrassing than Mizzou. Nothing further. The national media ought to be concentrating on that rather than this “remarkable turn around”.

  • keith walker

    i didn’t believe bo was capable of doing this turnaround job at all and declared the season over. ok so he was capable and his D started being competitive, kudo’s to him and installed many freshmen in the rotation and they performed with real game experience that is good for future but none of these games mattered as far as divisional or conference. same with lock, he did well when season over and how will he do in close games whre HE needs to win the game. lots of unknowns but still this streak is better than just mailing it in so GFY Barry, you did a terrific job.