WASHINGTON, D.C. - Barry Odom claims the postgame rant he delivered after Missouri’s 51-14 loss to Auburn on Sept. 23 wasn’t premeditated or scripted. But in speaking with Odom this week as his team prepared to play for the first time since that viral made-for-YouTube moment, it was obvious he feels unburdened after airing out a lot of the frustrations that have built up inside him since becoming the Missouri coach at the end of 2015.
“It was a lot of things I’ve wanted to say,” Odom told USA TODAY Sports. “There’s still a lot that I want to say. Our team sees that out of me every day, it just hasn’t really been public. Our guys are like, ‘That’s coach.’ He's fiery, he’s ready to go and passionate. I just haven’t been able to do it in a public setting. But I couldn’t stand it anymore.”
Missouri’s season and perhaps Odom’s tenure remain in a perilous position coming off a bye week. The Tigers, who were expected to have a productive offense and an improved defense with Odom taking a bigger role on that side of the ball, have instead been the SEC’s biggest disappointment. At 1-3 — and their only win was an ugly 72-43 victory against Missouri State — they now have to play consecutive road games at Kentucky and Georgia before the schedule gets a little easier on the back end.
For Missouri, even considering a coaching change would be a hasty move given the shape of the program Odom inherited. Though it’s true the Tigers won the SEC East in 2013 and 2014 while going a combined 23-5, some people familiar with the program point to a mediocre recruiting effort in Gary Pinkel’s final few years as the beginning of Missouri’s downturn. In 2015, Pinkel’s final year before stepping down due to health issues, the Tigers went 5-7 overall and 1-7 in the SEC while averaging just 9.1 points in league games. Only the defense Odom coordinated that year saved Missouri from complete embarrassment, as his unit ranked sixth nationally and gave the Tigers a chance to win several games.
The job Odom did that year accounts for half of why then-Missouri athletics director Mack Rhoades gave him the head coaching job. The other half is that nobody else of note wanted it in the wake of protests (including a football team boycott threat) that put racial tension on Missouri’s campus into the national news.
Combined with other off-field issues and attrition — just last week, starting receiver Dimetrios Mason was dismissed from the team for disciplinary reasons — and Odom has a legitimate argument that he indeed inherited a program that needed to be rebuilt, which was the ultimate point he was trying to convey to the fans, media and perhaps the Missouri administration.
“Go back to 1997 and ’98 when Larry Smith was here, all right?” Odom said at the beginning of his 3 minute, 44 second rant. “His ass went and fought for 14 years and finally broke down the wall, OK? He did it. All right? And there’s a lot of people that went and sacrificed and did a lot of things to get that turned around, but I was part of it. I was in the locker room. I saw it. I was a captain. I know what it takes, OK? Fast-forward, 2004, everybody wanted to run Gary Pinkel out of town. That’s pretty damn foolish, all right? All he’s done is become the winningest coach in program history. That was a turnaround. It took time, OK? That’s where we’re at. It’s a turnaround, and I don’t like it. I want to win right now, but that’s not the hand I’m given.”
The reality, though, is that Missouri needs to show more, even if it isn’t equipped to win big in the SEC. Losses of 31-13 to South Carolina, 35-3 to Purdue and 51-14 to Auburn — the latter two after Odom fired defensive coordinator Demontie Cross — just aren’t good enough. And Odom knows it.
That’s why Missouri both welcomed the bye week and the chance Saturday to play on the road and get out of town for a little while.
“I think the last week was healthy for our team because we could look at who we are,” Odom said. “We’re minus nine in turnover margin, last in the country, not good enough to win games offensively, defensively or in the kicking game. We’re just good enough to win some games and just good enough to lose them. The margin for error is zero.”
Odom is going to sell this season at Missouri as similar to his second year as defensive coordinator under Justin Fuente at Memphis when the Tigers slipped from four wins to three but felt internally like they had improved the program significantly. The next year, the Tigers proved it by going 10-3.
Odom, though, needs to get that third year to prove he’s on the same trajectory. Will he? Probably, but his low contract buyout of $1.8 million isn’t an obstacle if Missouri feels it has to make a change.
Odom said he’s “shut everything off” with regard to media consumption or speculation about his future. He’s going to pour his heart and soul, he said, into his guys. But he’s also going to keep fighting publicly, even if that requires again shedding the milquetoast public image he had maintained until two Saturdays ago.
“I’ve been reserved for a reason,” he said. “But that guy’s probably over.”
COACHING CAROUSEL CLIPS
Some of the biggest moves that will impact the coaching carousel this year will happen at the athletics director level, starting with Nebraska, which fired Shawn Eichorst on Sept. 21. And that job could have a domino effect on several other situations, as Nebraska has been focused on sitting Power Five athletics directors.
Given the expected salary for this job — Nebraska is willing to pay more than $1 million per year, USA TODAY Sports has been told by multiple people familiar with the process — and a fully vested Big Ten budget of more than $100 million, it’s a highly coveted position.
One candidate multiple industry insiders have pointed to as a target with interest from Nebraska is Ole Miss athletics director Ross Bjork, who grew up and went to college nearby in Kansas and is one of the superstar fundraisers in the business.
Were it not for his current program going through a lengthy NCAA enforcement process that uncovered 21 alleged football violations, 15 of which were of the most serious Level 1 variety, and a lack of institutional control charge, he would be a slam dunk for the job.
Bjork, however, didn’t hire Hugh Freeze at Ole Miss, and it’s widely known that the support to keep Freeze until his phone records revealed phone calls to sexually suggestive businesses came from above Bjork’s head. He remains highly respected in the industry and understands the public relations side of the job, completely opposite of the way Eichorst operated.
Interestingly enough, Turnkey Search firm has been hired to handle both the Nebraska athletics director opening and the Ole Miss football coaching job.
►Practically every week this season, South Florida coach Charlie Strong has pleaded with fans to fill Raymond James Stadium, even making some critical comments about attendance. And every week, USF fans have failed to respond.
Though South Florida is 5-0 and ranked 16th, just 24,325 people showed up (announced) for its last game against Temple and it’s doubtful things will be that much better on Oct. 14 for Cincinnati. That is just one of many frustrations Strong has voiced privately this season about coaching at the Group of Five level, according to a person familiar with Strong’s thinking who spoke on the condition of anonymity. That person told USA TODAY Sports they would not be surprised if Strong got in the mix for Power Five openings, despite his affinity for the Tampa area.
Though Strong’s Texas experience was a disaster, he’s 58-37 as a college head coach and will likely win 10 or more games this season at USF. He’s still a marketable name in the business and has a good track record, a good recruiting reputation and a likable personality. It wouldn’t be a stretch to see him involved with Ole Miss or perhaps Tennessee, which offered him the job in 2012 when he was at Louisville.
FAUX PAS OF THE WEEK
Kudos to North Texas athletics director Wren Baker for turning ESPN’s usage of “Mean Green” on a promotion for Michigan State into an issue and quickly getting an apology from the network. Though it wasn’t a ploy to get attention for North Texas, the issue gained traction overnight on Wednesday after Baker sent a Tweet calling out both entities for unauthorized trademark usage.
The whole story blew over in less than 14 hours, but ESPN’s oversight certainly got North Texas some good publicity. And it undoubtedly earned Baker, a second-year athletics director, some credibility with his fan base as he wasn’t afraid to be aggressive in defending his school’s brand.
Now we all know: North Texas is the only Mean Green in college sports.
YOUR WEEKLY HARBAUGH
It’s John O’Korn time at Michigan. With Wilton Speight injured, probably for a few weeks, O’Korn will step into the quarterback spotlight for the Wolverines against Michigan State. Though it comes under tough circumstances, O’Korn has waited patiently for an opportunity. And frankly, we're a little surprised it hasn’t happened sooner.
O’Korn was a stud freshman quarterback at Houston, throwing for 28 touchdowns and 3,117 yards for a team that went 8-5. He looked the part of an NFL prospect physically, and it seemed like he’d only get better and better.
Instead, Houston imploded to start the 2014 season and O’Korn got replaced by Greg Ward, a completely different style of quarterback who went on to have a terrific career. When O’Korn transferred to Michigan, it seemed likely that Jim Harbaugh would be able to fix whatever went wrong with him at Houston.
Instead, O’Korn couldn’t beat out Speight last season and has basically been a backup. Though it comes toward the end of his career, at least he gets one more chance to make his mark and college football and live up to the potential so many people once thought he possessed.
DUD OF THE WEEK
If you’re curious about watching Mike Price coach college football again after retiring in 2012, you’re in luck. With the firing of UTEP coach Sean Kugler, Price has been brought back to be the Miners’ interim coach the rest of the season. Otherwise, there’s very little reason to watch UTEP’s game Saturday night against Western Kentucky, a team that has been fairly disappointing this season at 2-2. UTEP is 0-5 and hasn't scored more than 21 points in any game this year, while the Hilltoppers have also struggled offensively, averaging 20.7 points against FBS teams (they averaged 45.5 last year).
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