Why Barry Odom can be to Arkansas what Mike MacIntyre was to Ole Miss
If you consumed Ole Miss football the past 3 years, Mike MacIntyre’s impact was obvious.
In 2017 with Wesley McGriff as the defensive coordinator, the team ranked No. 110 in scoring and No. 124 against the run. In 2018, Ole Miss was No. 113 scoring and No. 115 against the run.
Naturally, McGriff was fired at the end of the 2018 season and in stepped MacIntyre, who was 2 years removed from winning the Associated Press Coach of the Year award for his 10-win season at Colorado. After a pair of bowl-less seasons, MacIntyre took the Ole Miss defensive coordinator job, and it didn’t take long in Oxford for fans to realize that he could still coach up a defense. MacIntyre took Ole Miss from No. 113 in scoring to No. 60, and the run defense improved from No. 115 to No. 44.
Within 2 games, MacIntyre was praised for the noticeable difference. What made the difference? An attention to detail with walking through plays “until they couldn’t see straight” and actually tackling with pursuit drills every day. As a result, defenders didn’t play out of position and the big busts went down considerably. Thus, the MacIntyre impact.
Don’t be surprised when the same things are being said about Barry Odom’s impact at Arkansas in 2020.
The irony of that comparison is that even though Ole Miss had a major defensive turnaround, the coaching staff underwent a complete overhaul after a 4-win season in 2019. Now, MacIntyre is the defensive coordinator at Memphis, which is the exact same position that Odom held from 2012-14 when he established himself as one of the country’s better defensive minds.
Odom, like MacIntyre, is now going back to his roots as a defensive coordinator after getting fired as a Power 5 head coach. And also like MacIntyre, Odom is taking over an SEC West defense that’s been a doormat the past 2 years.
In 2018, Arkansas was No. 108 in scoring and No. 70 against the run. In 2019, the Hogs were No. 124 in scoring (worst in Power 5) and No. 122 against the run.
Odom won’t have a major influx of talent to work with, but Arkansas does at least return 68% of its defensive production. That, combined with Odom’s history as a defensive mind, should result in 2 things — a defense that’s in position to make tackles and a significant overall year-to-year improvement.
Say what you want about Odom’s ceiling as a Power 5 head coach, but he has a pretty impressive track record as a coordinator:
And while Odom’s defense were up and down during his time as a head coach at Mizzou, he had the nation’s No. 15 scoring defense in 2019.
Certain people are better suited to be coordinators than head coaches, and it wouldn’t surprise me if this year reminded us that Odom is one of them. He might not be an elite recruiter and you can question some of his staff hires at Mizzou, but you know what he gets to focus on in Fayetteville? Coaching up a defense.
With all due respect to John Chavis, who has been coaching in the SEC longer than I’ve been alive, his Arkansas defense the past 2 years carried some of the same stench as pre-MacIntyre Ole Miss. Players were out of position, and big plays became the norm. Even against a team like Mississippi State, which shouldn’t have been able to bully Arkansas, saw Kylin Hill do this:
Arkansas had no chance of stopping Kylin Hill. None at all. pic.twitter.com/1KxYw85AbK
— PFF College (@PFF_College) November 6, 2019
(For what it’s worth, Hill had 234 rushing yards … not 288.)
As any Arkansas fan could tell you, those broken tackles and yards after contact were, um, troubling. Oh, and allowing 234 rushing yards to a running back on your home field — as awesome as Hill is — wasn’t great, either.
There’s no guarantee that those moments will all but vanish with Odom in Year 1. After all, we’re talking about a new coordinator trying to implement multiple schemes — he hasn’t committed to exclusively running a base 4-2-5 defense — in the midst of a pandemic-shortened offseason. Unlike MacIntyre, Odom won’t get the luxury of running walking through plays “until they can’t see straight.”
The good news is that he’s had plenty of time to study up on what he’s working with in 2020. While Arkansas has a major loss at every level of the defense with McTelvin Agim, De’Jon Harris and Kamren Curl off to the NFL, there are promising pieces returning. Fresh off a 94-tackle season with a team-high 5 passes defended, Bumper Pool should fill the role that Cale Garrett played in Odom’s defense (Garrett was in the middle of an All-American season before a torn pectoral ended his 2019 campaign). Joe Foucha started all 12 games at free safety last year and was No. 3 on the team with 87 tackles.
Along with returning defensive backs Montaric Brown and Jarques McClellion, it’s the back end of Arkansas’ defense where Odom has the most returning experience to work with. But thanks to Sam Pittman’s prowess on the grad transfer recruiting trail, Odom will also have Oklahoma linebacker Levi Draper and Clemson defensive end Xavier Kelly in the front 7 (or front 6 depending on just how multiple Arkansas is).
So what’s realistic for Arkansas?
Odom isn’t about to turn the Hogs into a top-20 run defense overnight. That’s not realistic. And maybe it’s not even fair to say that Arkansas’ defense should improve all the way to No. 44 like Ole Miss did with MacIntyre. That Ole Miss team returned more experience on defense and it had a normal offseason.
But there should be massive improvement for the nation’s No. 122 run defense. Even just reaching mediocrity probably sounds like a fantasy for Arkansas fans who endured more frustration than any fan base should during the 2 years with Chavis. Getting back to somewhere in the No. 60-70 range against the run would be a phenomenal Year 1 sign. If that happens, obviously that No. 124 scoring defense will improve significantly.
Pittman couldn’t have made a better hire than Odom. Amidst all the personnel decisions made since Pittman came on board, it could easily wind up being the most important addition to rebuild the program from the ground up.
Odom is going to turn the Arkansas defense around, and I’ll continue saying that until I can’t see straight.