Will the Tigers shift away from the team’s patented base 4-3 defense?

Missouri defensive coordinator Barry Odom put that mystery to rest this week, discussing his plans for 2015 with the media for the first time since his hiring.

Odom, who replaced Dave Steckel, operated a 3-4 defense at Memphis, and the Tigers have some defensive line personnel that seems to fit that scheme. Mizzou may start to mix it in, turning into a multiple defense, but expect the team to continue to operate with four defensive linemen.

When Odom arrived at Memphis in 2012, the Tigers were short on FBS-level defensive linemen, so he adapted a 3-4 scheme. When it worked well, the team began recruiting around it. But Mizzou has built a program around its defensive line.

“To the guy in the stands, you’re going to see something that looks familiar with what Mizzou’s had in the past,” Odom said in a press conference. “You’re going to see some different alignments and structurally some different things I did at Memphis to marry the two together.

“We well base out of a 4-3 defense. Recruiting-wise, that’s what Mizzou has done over the last three, four, five years. That kind of fits more traditionally than to come in, overhaul and say, ‘Hey, we’re changing exclusively to a 3-4.’ That doesn’t make sense to me. Along with that, Mizzou has had really good success the last couple years defensively on running this system and that scheme. I’m not coming in to try and reinvent everything. I’m trying to add to what they’ve done, continue to build it. Whether there’s four defensive linemen on the field or three or eight, it’s our job to put our players in the position of what they do best.

“That’s one of the things I enjoy about coaching the most is to find the skill set, number one, recruiting the guy, find the skill set on what each player does and then build the defense and put them in position to go do that, whatever that skill set is.”

In other words, don’t be shocked if you see a defensive front of Harold Brantley, Josh Augusta and Terry Beckner Jr. at some point this season. But more often than not Mizzou will line up with two defensive ends and two defensive tackles.

Odom spent years with the Columbia, Mo., Tigers before his three-year hiatus, and he also trotted out a four-man front about 25 percent of the time at Memphis, so it won’t be a foreign scheme to him.

Asked if Mizzou will begin to recruit more 3-4 bodies, specifically at linebacker, Odom joked that the team would remain a 4-3 defense as long as he could have Shane Ray and Markus Golden. Pushed to answer seriously, Odom made it sound as if the team will remain open in recruiting, finding the best available athletic talent and then adjusting the scheme to maximize the abilities of his players.

“You adapt to what you have,” he said. “Obviously, if you go out in recruiting and find a guy that’s 6-5 and 245 pounds and can go rush the passer and also drop to the numbers and be a flat defender, you’ve got to find a way to go take that guy. And it’s our job to go build the defense around what you have. You always want a blueprint on what you want your defense to look like structurally.

“I don’t know as many guys that say, ‘Hey we’re going to be a 4-3 team. We’re going to be a 3-4 team.’ I want to be a good defensive football, a great defensive football team. I’m more into, at this point, fine tuning our skill sets and building the defense around the athletic ability we have.”

Odom also downplayed whatever friction may exist between him and the men on the staff who coveted his job, especially defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski and cornerbacks coach Cornell Ford, calling them good friends and insisting that all of them hold mutual respect for one another.

Odom also described new safeties coach Ryan Walters, with whom he coached for one year at Memphis, as a strong Xs and Os guy, a great recruiter, “and he’s hard-headed enough that we work pretty well together.”

Head coach Gary Pinkel is 62 years old, and he’ll be able to coach the Tigers for many years to come, if he so chooses. He’s seven years younger than Steve Spurrier and one year younger than Nick Saban. Still, some are wondering if when that day comes, Odom may be a candidate to replace him.

Pinkel admitted to holding head coaching aspirations, but stopped well short of publicly dreaming of coaching Mizzou one day.

“Everyone has personal goals on where you think you would want to end up someday with your job or occupation. I’m not afraid to say that I want to be a head coach. I’ve come to believe with really strong conviction that if you’re good at what you do, work extremely hard, and treat people right and do things the right way, then things are going to work out like they’re supposed to,” Odom said.

“… If you can ever put a stamp on where or when that’s going to happen, more power to you. But my focus is to serve my players, make sure they’re the best student-athletes they can be and put a product of defensive football on the field that will help us win championships.”