A stop here or a first down there are the difference between a Missouri football program sporting a 7-2 record overall, 3-2 in conference play and ranked among the Top-25 teams in the CFB as well as AP polls. Instead, the Tigers sit 5-4 (1-4 SEC) with 3 games to play after suffering deflating, potentially debilitating losses to South Carolina and Kentucky on the last play of both contests, both they clearly should have won.
To their credit, MU ventured into Gainesville and spoiled Homecoming with an impressive 38-17 thorough thumping of the previously 11-ranked Florida Gators in "The Swamp" that gave Missouri head coach Barry Odom his first victory over a ranked opponent many proclaimed a "signature" win.
The feat proved to be a salve that helped ease the sting of the team's highly improbable loss to the Wildcats that was an epic failure in all phases of the game. The outcomes of both games, both "signature" losses, begged the question "Are you sure that you have the right guy as head coach?". It's very evident the Tiger players love playing for Barry Odom but if they love winning and loathe losing, they'd welcome the arrival of Washington State's Mike Leach.
You say "how could you replace a coach if the team wins out, finishes the regular season 8-4 then adds a bowl conquest to complete a successful year replete with 9 "W's"? They're not going to fire a coach that's made progress in year-3 of his career." I'd counter with the question "What constitutes progress?"
Allow the Devil's Advocate in me to trumpet Leach's arrival as Mizzou's next football coach. Although Athletic Director Jim Sterk recently stated that Odom was "good for business" on a local sports talk-radio show, it was the politically correct thing to say if the department didn't want to find itself in the throes of a PR fiasco. He wasn't Sterk's hire to begin or end with. Nor was he what most would view as a "sexy" hire, the type that would get the fan base excited, maybe even worked into a lather over the impending success a coach of Leach's caliber would bring. Sterk owes it to current and future Tiger players to inquire about his availability, even if he goes through back-line sources and contacts to gauge the possibility.
All Leach did was post winning records every year he coached Texas Tech's Red Raiders from 2000-2009. He's currently head coach of an 8-1 Washington State team that's ranked 8th in the country, sits 5-1 atop the PAC-12 North standings and is in the midst of a 5-game winning streak following a 19-13 win over a very stubborn California Golden Bears team. If Missouri wants to win consistently in college football's premier conference, they'll have to lure premier, innovative coaching talent and pay the cost of doing so. Leach's salary of $3.5 million annually is a very modest amount to compensate a coach of his ilk in this age of high stakes dollars and cents. Sterk would have to raise the ante to gain a listening ear. Can you think of a more attractive, offensively creative candidate, a better sound byte should a change be warranted? I certainly can't.
Missouri's excruciating losses revealed that Odom made a bad hire that was highly questionable to begin with in Derek Dooley, opting to entrust him instead of former UCLA offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch with calling plays, something he'd never done before, for a potential first-round pick in quarterback Drew Lock. Also brought into question were Odom's clock management savvy, attention to detail, situational awareness, preparation and the degree to which he held his coordinators and special teams coach in particular, accountable. Dooley CAN'T throw the ball in a quagmire against the Gamecocks that resulted in a Lock pick-6 or FAIL to run on third-and-2 against the Wildcats that would've burned clock and forced Kentucky to call their final, oh-so-precious timeout. DC Ryan Walters CAN'T have his corners play 10 yards off of receivers, inviting the opposition to "slant" the defensive secondary to death versus playing press or man-to-man coverage that would allow the corners to throw receivers off of their routes by "chucking" them at the line of scrimmage to disrupt their timing as well as that of the quarterback. Instill trust and the necessary confidence in your players that they'll make plays, they'll compete, whether it's against Georgia, Alabama or Kentucky. It's an important part of their development, an integral part of coaching them up.
D-Line coach Brick Haley, O-Line coach Brad Davis and Assistant Head Coach/running backs coach Cornell Ford have done very commendable jobs getting their respective units prepared to perform. The defensive line's stout ability to defend the run, offensive line's penchant for limiting sacks of Lock and trio of running backs' yards per carry average are all noteworthy. Maybe Barry Odom is an SEC coach. Maybe he isn't. Maybe Odom gets a contract extension with a stretch run that ends with a 7-5 or 8-4 record. Maybe he deserves it. Maybe Missouri has to decide what they really want to be as a football program in the Southeastern Conference. Defeating Florida marked just the seventh time Missouri has beaten a ranked team on the road since 1980. Gary Pinkel accomplished the feat 4 times during his tenure, Larry Smith, Warren Powers and now Barry Odom once each during theirs.
The Devil's advocate in me trumpets MU hands over the reigns of its talent-containing yet underachieving football program to Mike Leach if AD Jim Sterk wants to check all of the boxes that lend to a Top-25 ranking yearly. Even if he does what's politically correct by extending Odom for a strong finish to the season, it may be in Sterk's best fiscally responsible interest and that of a dwindling fan base to probe those back-line connections and contacts - that is, if he's not in the process of doing so already as I write and you read. Now, that would amount to progress.