Firing Barry Odom shows that Mizzou is done settling for mediocrity
Barry Odom is out, and so is any belief that mediocrity is acceptable at Mizzou.
That news came out Saturday morning, and fittingly so. It was less than 24 hours removed from Odom’s team finishing the season 6-6. Perhaps even more fittingly, Saturday improved his overall record to 25-25.
If not for the NCAA’s incompetence to overturn an all-too-harsh bowl ban from academic fraud that predated the Odom era, Mizzou would be preparing for its 3rd consecutive bowl game. But the hay was already in the barn, regardless of that ruling. At least it should have been. Some bowl win in Shreveport wasn’t going to change Mizzou’s reality of what the program was.
Average. Nothing more, nothing less.
That’s what Mizzou has been during the 4 years of the Odom era. For some, that was enough.
It was enough because Odom didn’t inherit a program built to win. The fallout of the Gary Pinkel era — player protests and a divided university defined a messy 2015 season in Columbia — put Mizzou in a hole that set the program back far from the place it entered the SEC. That is, as a sneaky SEC East contender who surprised people by making it to Atlanta. Twice.
That was all the more reason Mizzou wasn’t about to accept mediocrity. Not now. Not after watching the likes of Vanderbilt, Kentucky and Tennessee play a part in Mizzou’s 5-game losing streak. That was the 3rd time in Odom’s 4 years in which he suffered such a streak during the regular season. The only season that didn’t happen? That was 2018, which was also the only year in which Mizzou beat a ranked team under Odom.
Consider that. Even Vandy beat a ranked team in 2 of the past 3 years … and one of those was Mizzou. That, of course, was the only time in the Odom era that the Tigers played a regular season game as an Associated Press Top 25 team.
That felt like a fork in the road for the Odom era. Had he been able to stay in the hunt in the East, we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now. Instead, Mizzou couldn’t even be average. It was a bottom-feeder SEC team in the second half of 2019. That was mentioned in Sterk’s statement about Odom’s firing:
“As a program, we had tremendous momentum coming into the 2019 season with the opening of the new south end zone facility as well as other strategic investments in our football program,” Sterk said. “However, we lost a great deal of that energy during the last half of the season. This decision was difficult to make but was necessary.”
Sure, a season-ending injury to Cale Garrett and lingering injuries to Kelly Bryant played a part in that. But in Year 4, why did Jim Sterk need to keep accepting mediocrity?
Odom had a $2.85 million buyout, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. In 4 years of having the likes of Bryant and Drew Lock, who set the single-season SEC touchdown pass record, what did Odom really have to show for it? The Florida wins were great. Where were the signature wins?
In 4 years, Odom beat 6 teams who played in a bowl game. Florida was the only Power 5 team of that group who won more than 7 regular season games.
Mediocrity, that is.
And look, while this is a results-based business, Odom’s attitude probably made Sterk’s decision that much more difficult. The way he kept Mizzou from having a single player enter the transfer portal following the news of the bowl ban was commendable. The passion that he spoke about his alma mater with certainly made the Mizzou faithful believe that he was the right man for the job. A tremendous coordinator, he was. A tremendous face of the program, he was.
But Odom did a mediocre job as a head coach, and mediocrity doesn’t cut it in this conference. It doesn’t cut it at Mizzou, which has a $98 million stadium renovation that it would like to get a nice return on. A fanbase who believes its program has a ceiling is an awfully dangerous place to be.
It’s dangerous when you look around the conference and see that Georgia with Kirby Smart is on a completely different level. Florida with Dan Mullen avenged that 2-year skid in a big way in Columbia. Tennessee with Jeremy Pruitt turned the corner and looks like it’s on the rise. Shoot, Kentucky with Mark Stoops dodged a major bullet by keeping him from leaving for Florida State … shortly after a receiver played quarterback and ran all over Mizzou’s defense.
This was a make or break year for Odom. His team broke, and as a result, someone else is going to take over a program that’s in better shape than it was when he took over. That’s the good news. That’s surely what Sterk is banking on.
There’s going to be a solid market for the Mizzou opening. It’ll be a much different situation than 2015, when Odom made a lot of sense given the sudden Pinkel news and the turmoil from the player protests. For the first time in nearly 2 decades, it’ll be a completely open search for the next head coach.
The aforementioned facilities upgrade will certainly help, as will the likely scenario that Sterk is going to pony up for whoever gets the job. Whether that’s an up-and-coming Group of 5 coach like Mike Norvell or Luke Fickell, or perhaps a Power 5 coach curious about a potential change of scenery like Mike Leach or Dino Babers, Mizzou is an attractive opening.
It’s an interesting time in the program’s history. It would have been easy to sit back and let Odom continue to have these peaks and valleys that became synonymous with his tenure. Ultimately, though, the peaks weren’t high enough to justify him staying in Columbia for half a decade.
Mizzou knows it has the ability to compete in this division. We saw it in the 2010s. It just needs the right coach. Odom might’ve been the right guy at the time, but as the new decade begins, a change needed to be made.
Sterk made a tough decision. It was the right decision. Why? Mizzou doesn’t have to settle for mediocrity.
Sterk’s decision confirmed that it won’t anymore.