No SEC coach has more questions to answer in 2018 than Mizzou's Barry Odom
It was an interesting move.
At the end of the 2017 season, Mizzou did something that seemed unfathomable a few weeks earlier. In an effort to capitalize on the momentum of the Tigers’ 6-game winning streak to end the regular season, they gave Barry Odom a 2-year contract extension through the 2022 season.
I say it was an interesting move because had Mizzou chosen to stand pat, it would have still had a coach under contract for another 3 seasons (his original deal ran through 2020). But I suppose in this era of recruiting, having anything fewer than 4 years remaining on a coach’s deal gives other teams an excuse to tell recruits “their coach isn’t even under contract for your entire college career.”
Mizzou seemed to squash any notion that it lacked confidence in Odom. Never mind the fact that 8 weeks before he got his extension, the Tigers were 1-5 without a win vs. an FBS opponent. Oh, and that lone win was vs. an FCS opponent that went 3-8 … yet still managed to score 43 points against Odom’s defense in Columbia.
And despite that potential job-saving midseason turnaround, the Tigers failed to beat a single FBS team with a winning record. Odom’s defense finished 97th in FBS in scoring defense, which was overlooked to a certain extent because of the record-setting numbers that Drew Lock put up in Josh Heupel’s offense.
Now, Heupel is in Orlando with his own head coaching gig while Odom is still in Columbia, where he’ll try and answer the long list of questions about his future.
That’s not my way of saying that Odom is on the proverbial “hot seat” because I don’t think it’s a given that a 6-win season means the Tigers are going to eat the 4 remaining years left on his deal, even though the guaranteed annual salary ($2.35 million) didn’t increase.
But if I’m a Mizzou fan, I have a whole lot of questions about him heading into Year 3.
It’s not just that Odom has an 11-14 overall record and a 6-10 conference mark in his first attempt as a head coach. It’s that he’s 2-13 against teams with a winning record.
And his defense, which was supposed to be his calling card, hasn’t even been mediocre. Finishing No. 90 and No. 97 in scoring defense in 2 years isn’t a sign that Odom’s area of expertise is part of the team’s identity. Lock is the face of the program right now. Expectations are high thanks mostly to Lock, who came out and said “there’s no reason Mizzou can’t end its season with a championship.”
Just in case that didn’t raise the bar high enough, Mizzou athletic director Jim Sterk echoed those high expectations.
“I don’t see anybody on the schedule that we can’t compete with, or that we can’t score with,” Sterk said via the Kansas City Star. “It’ll be fun to see the SEC touchdown leader return and have a lot of his linemen up front return.”
Hmmmmm. I see seven FBS teams with winning records in Mizzou’s first eight games. I also see an AD who seems more confident that the Tigers are going to win shootouts than stymie teams with their defense. He should be.
My question is what if that’s still Mizzou’s identity by season’s end? Suddenly you’re without Lock, who could finish his career as the best quarterback in program history, and you’re working with a defensive-minded coach who has coached 3 sub-par defenses in 3 seasons.
I’m not saying that Odom needs to crank out multiple first-round defensive linemen and take Mizzou to Atlanta for those questions to subside. But here are a few things that would make me feel better about Odom lasting the duration of the 4 years left he has on his deal:
- A) Win 8 games
- B) Beat a few quality SEC teams
- C) Win multiple games without scoring 45 points
- D) All the above
Mizzou was 7-0 when it scored 45 points last year and 0-6 when it didn’t. In other words, Odom’s defense was basically the U.S. economy back in 2008. It needed a bail out, or else it was going to sink.
Odom might’ve gotten a bailout at the end of 2017 thanks to Lock’s brilliance and his decision to come back for his senior year. Whether that was the case or not, the questions didn’t vanish with Odom’s extension.
He said that he feels better personnel-wise now compared to last year. Maybe the fact his defense returns 68 percent of its production from a year ago helps. Perhaps that, coupled with finally seeing the emergence of a healthy Terry Beckner Jr., added to Odom’s confidence about his squad.
Maybe this is finally the year in which it feels like Mizzou’s early days in the SEC, when being the underrated yearly contender to win the division was the expectation. Odom set out to get Mizzou back to that when he took over a 5-7 team. He set out to continue the standard he set when the Tigers ranked fifth in the country in scoring defense in his first and only season as Mizzou’s defensive coordinator in 2015.
Maybe Odom is better suited to be a coordinator than a coach. Another year of a struggling defense would add to that argument.
Something tells me we’ll have an answer to that question by season’s end.