Mizzou’s 2019 hasn’t been ideal. That much we know.
Two weeks ago, the Tigers received word from the NCAA that they were facing a bowl ban and recruiting limitations following a ruling that they were guilty of academic fraud. The consensus feeling was that while Mizzou admitted guilt, the NCAA’s punishment didn’t fit the crime.
That led to an immediate appeal from Mizzou athletic director Jim Sterk, who was outspoken about not believing the program deserved a bowl ban for the actions of one tutor.
The ruling also led to an immediate response from Barry Odom:
— Barry Odom (@Coach_Odom) January 31, 2019
Odom has rarely been the coach to stir the pot. Sure, he has done it on occasion. After an embarrassing 51-14 loss to Auburn in 2017, he had a headline-worthy rant in which he said “I want to get one thing real straight — I’m gonna win here. That’s gonna happen. We will win, and this is a turnaround.”
But more typical of Odom was for him to make a self-deprecating wisecrack about his job security after overcoming an 0-4 start to SEC play.
Releasing a statement that closed with “and I will damn sure fight for my team!” was about as much emotion as you’ll see from Odom publicly.
If you thought that was something, you were probably even more taken aback by what Odom said about Tennessee apparently trying to take advantage of the rule that states Mizzou’s seniors can now transfer without restrictions (none has transferred yet).
“Everybody is going to have a bad day,” Odom said (via CBS Sports), expressing his frustration with keeping his players from transferring. “You combine that with somebody that — who’d we beat 51-17 this year? Tennessee? Yeah, those guys. They are non-stop reaching out daily (saying), ‘Hey, come here.’ The grass is not always greener somewhere else.”
That’s the reaction of a neutral site observer like myself who doesn’t have a dog in the fight.
That’s the reaction of a Mizzou fan, who clearly has a dog with some fight.
They have to love this version of Odom. I definitely do. It’s the type of Odom that Mizzou needs right now.
And if you’re of the impression that those are obvious comments for someone in Odom’s situation to make, consider this. It would have been extremely easy for him to just take a pass on discussing the nitty gritty. Rarely does Odom use social media as a true platform. His statement is now his pinned tweet with nearly 6,000 likes.
Odom could have easily said, “I don’t want to get into specifics of an ongoing investigation. I support our team and trust our administration to handle matters that are above my pay grade.”
Blah, blah, blah.
Who needs that? You know what Mizzou needs right now? It needs a coach who can stand behind his team and let them know that nothing is going to hold them back from succeeding. Not the NCAA, not an SEC competitor, not anybody. If that means ruffling some feathers and calling out Tennessee for reaching out to Mizzou seniors “non-stop” then so be it.
Odom is past the point of worrying about hurting feelings in the coaching fraternity. And you know what? He’s right. The Tigers beat Tennessee like a drum last year. There’s no harm in reminding everyone about that while you fight to keep your players.
And to be clear, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with what Tennessee is doing. The Vols are in obvious need of some veterans and plugging in a few would be a major offseason victory for Jeremy Pruitt’s staff. I actually don’t agree with Odom’s belief that players in that situation should be off-limits for other schools.
But this discussion is about Odom and the public perception battle that he’s winning right now.
Keep in mind that some are still in wait-and-see mode with Odom. Bowl losses the past 2 years made for anticlimactic finishes after resurgent Novembers. The defensive-minded head coach just put together his first Top 50 defense as a head coach, and he’s 10-14 in SEC play. That’s not to say Odom’s job is in immediate danger, but it’s not like he has earned a lifetime contract yet.
One thing seems obvious, though. Odom’s actions in the wake of this NCAA ruling should have endeared him to fans, players and administration.
This was and is a defining time for him. Regardless of what happens with Mizzou’s appeal, Odom needs to continue to be this version of himself — the take-no-prisoners, vengeful, us-against-the-world coach. The former linebacker, in other words. That person has a much better chance of motivating a team and exciting a fan base than the politically-correct, not-gonna-comment-on-that, mild-mannered coach.
If Mizzou’s bowl ban is upheld, it’s going to be more challenging than ever to stay motivated throughout 2019. I questioned how Odom would handle that when the ruling first came down.
Then I saw this “bring it on” soundbite:
— Tyler Murry (@TylerMurryABC17) February 1, 2019
I still have long-term questions about whether Odom is better suited to be a coordinator than a head coach. But in the short term, I’m no longer questioning Odom’s approach as a head coach.
This is the perfect time for him to be outspoken. All signs point to Odom continuing that approach as long as this NCAA cloud hangs over Mizzou.
And if he does, woooooo boy.