When Barry Odom praised Kentucky coach Mark Stoops earlier this week, the Mizzou football coach tried to make a point on behalf of … Barry Odom.
“Mark has done about as good a job as anyone can do in the time he’s been given to build the program,” Odom said. “He’s got his stamp all over it. You can see the way he’s recruited. In year one they won two games. In year two they won five. In year three they won five. He’s taken off from there. He was given time to do it and he’s done it the way he wanted.”
Stoops is indeed doing a terrific job. Kentucky, ranked 12th in this week’s AP poll, and will bring a sharp 6-1 record onto Missouri for Saturday’s 3 p.m. kickoff.
And this was hardly an instant turnaround for Stoops, who had a 12-24 record (4-20 in the SEC) over this first three seasons (2013-15) in Lexington.
Since the start of the 2016 season Kentucky is 20-13 overall, 12-9 in the SEC, and working on its third consecutive winning season. That hasn’t been done by a Kentucky coach since Rich Brooks (yeah, that guy) had four straight winning records from 2006 through 2009.
In rightfully praising Stoops, Odom was able to get a message across: See, it takes time. Be patient. Stick with your coach, give him your support, and your faith and loyalty will be rewarded.
Odom, you see, was talking about himself.
Saturday the Tigers (4-3 overall, 0-3) have a clear opportunity to get their first win over a ranked opponent since Odom replaced the retired Gary Pinkel at the outset of 2016. Kentucky is plenty good, but the Wildcats may have peaked in late September.
In the opening month, Kentucky ended a preposterous 31-game losing streak to Florida by beating the 25th-ranked (at the time) Gators 27-16 at The Swamp. The success was replicated by a 28-7 whupping of 14th-ranked (at the time) Mississippi State. Next was a 14-point victory over South Carolina.
October has been more challenging, with Kentucky letting one get away with a 20-14 overtime loss at Texas A&M, followed by a 14-7 win over Vanderbilt in a tribute to the concept of being methodical.
In out-wrestling Vandy, the Cats attempted only nine passes in putting Ca, completing three. This is what they do: Run, Run, Run and Run it gain with Benny Snell Jr. Kentucky ranks 19th nationally with an average of 231.5 ground yards per game but is 124th among 130 FBS teams with 127.3 passing yards per contest.
If Missouri can stop the run — and Odom is an old, hard-hitting MU linebacker who thrives on winning physical matchups — then the Tigers should get a win. If a team led by the defensive-minded Odom can’t come out on top at home against a one-dimensional offense, then what would that tell us? I believe the Tigers will get it done. And they are a seven-point betting favorite to get it done. Missouri is home, can run the ball, and will likely have the best version of quarterback Drew Lock zeroing in on Saturday.
The Tigers just can’t lose this one and slide to 0-4 in conference play. No one realistically expected Mizzou to defeat Georgia and Alabama. But the Tigers spit up a win at South Carolina, a costly giveaway that makes it impossible to have a 2-2 SEC record by beating Kentucky. A team with this much talent shouldn’t be 1-3 in the SEC; 0-4 would be unacceptable.
Circling back to Odom’s premise — with the coach citing Stoops in making a low-key appeal for more time — well, I have to throw the flag on that one. That’s a false start.
Stoops began to turn the KY program around in his fourth season. In this, his sixth season, Stoops has the Wildcats poised to have their most successful record since winning nine times in 1984.
But Odom shouldn’t need three seasons to turn Mizzou around, shouldn’t need six seasons to get the Tigers up to the standard of a nine-win team.
I like making lists, so here are the reasons why the Stoops-Odom comparison should be whistled for an illegal shift:
1. Odom went 7-6 last season on his second year on the job.
Yes, the six-game winning streak that made it possible came against a row of bad teams, fractious teams, dying teams. But the bottom line is 7-6. If Odom and the Mizzou people pointed to that winning record as hard evidence of progress — and they did — it nullifies any attempt to rationalize of justify a less successful 2018. Especially when Mizzou came into the season equipped with a prolific fourth-year starter at quarterback and a wealth of experienced returning starters.
2. At Mizzou, Odom inherited a much stronger program relative to Stoops’ first-year situation at Kentucky.
Stoops replaced Joker Phillips, who was 13-24 overall (4-20 SEC) in three seasons. In fact, the Kentucky program hasn’t had a had coach with a winning career record in Lexington since Blanton Collier went 41-36-5 in eight seasons from 1954 through 1961. By the time he leaves Lexington, Stoops may be above .500 — but right now his winning percentage is .464.
What about Odom? Sure, Gary Pinkel’s final team went 5-7 in 2015. It was a real comedown from the consecutive SEC East titles in 2013-14. But Pinkel was coping with a serious health the issue, the Mizzou campus was embroiled in a race-based controversy, and the football team vowed to boycott games over it. And Pinkel’s starting quarterback, Matty Mauk, was booted off the team for his disturbing personal conduct. Lock, a freshman, wasn’t ready but the Tigers had to play him. Looking back on all of that, I can’t believe the Tigers won five games.
In the 10 years preceding 2015 the Tigers had nine winning records, played in nine bowl games, won two SEC East titles, were ranked No. 1 in the nation for a week in 2007, and finished in the AP’s final Top 25 rankings five times — including No. 4 at the end of 2007, No. 5 at the conclusion of 2013, and No. 14 when 2014 was filed into history.
Stoops was put in charge of a program that was an abject failure for just about a half-century.
Odom was named head coach of a program that, from 2005 through 2015, was tied for 17th nationally with 96 victories over that time. Over Pinkel’s final 11 years as the leader of Mizzou football the Tigers won more overall games than Penn State, Michigan, Auburn, Notre Dame, Nebraska, West Virginia, Louisville, Iowa, Texas A&M and Miami (Fla.), UCLA and many more. Only 15 Power 5 conference teams had more wins than Mizzou over the 11 seasons.
3. Compared to Kentucky, Mizzou has had an abundance of talented players.
First of all, how many first-year coaches have the good fortune to take over a program that has a highly regarded quarterback in place? And not only was Drew Lock that guy, but he’s been Odom’s quarterback for three seasons. That’s a nice head start.
From 2002 through 2016, Mizzou had 35 players drafted, including eight in the first round, and eight others chosen in rounds two and three. But over the same time the Tigers also had 15 undrafted players win jobs in the NFL and make at least one appearance in a regular-season game.
To use a more compact time frame, between 2009 and 2016 Pinkel had 25 players drafted including seven first rounders. But pass-rusher Charles Harris, drafted in the first round by Miami earlier this year, was a Pinkel recruit. So you can make the case that in Pinkel’s final eight seasons in CoMo, the Tigers had 26 players drafted overall, including eight in the first round. Sixteen Tigers were chosen among the first 97 players selected in their respective drafts. And 13 were drafted among the first 50 to be selected in their draft class.
Kentucky? In the 14 NFL drafts covering 2000 through 2013 the Wildcats had 28 players chosen overall, with only one going in the first round.
I don’t blame Odom for lobbying for more time. And if he can get the Tigers going and piling up wins, he’ll have nothing to worry about. But Pinkel handed a good football program off to Odom. And Odom’s challenge was easy — or at least considerably less difficult — than Stoops walking into a massive pile of hot horse mess when he took the job in Lexington.
Thanks for reading…