For Mutually Beneficial Reasons, Mizzou and Coach Barry Odom Should Stay Together

Barry Odom to Louisville? Is this a thing or just a way for the third-year football coach squeeze a better contract out of cash-poor Mizzou?

Only Jimmy Sexton knows for sure. Jimmy is the supreme ruler of the SEC, controlling 11 of the league’s 14 head coaches through his exemplary work as an agent-negotiator.

Odom is one of Sexton’s clients.

Odom is the SEC’s lowest-paid coach this season at a salary of $2.35 million.

I don’t believe for a minute that Odom wants to bolt his alma mater for Louisville. Despite what Sexton’s media toadies will tell you, if Louisville is serious about chasing Odom, then Louisville can get him. Louisville has a lot more money to throw around than Mizzou.

So if this is serious, then Odom will be the next HC of your Louisville Cardinals.

Unless it isn’t serious.

Gee, that can’t be possible … right? Coaches and agents have never concocted or embellished a job rumor as a ploy to land a better deal from the coach’s current employer.  (Sarcasm alert.)

This is a smart maneuver by Sexton. Leaking rumors about how Louisville and Colorado are wagging their tails over Odom is good marketing for Odom locally. It serves to adjust the local perception of the coach. Odom goes from being “Just a Guy” to “Hey, Coach is a hot commodity, so we’d better do something.”  Sexton is clever.

Now let’s get into it:

— Odom is a black-and-gold Mizzou man. He has his program in solid shape. Recruiting has improved. The coach has won 14 of his last 19 games, and has gotten his team into a bowl game for the second consecutive season. The record  supporters a reason to claim momentum.

— Odom definitely is getting better as a head coach, but still gives games away (South Carolina and Kentucky are very thankful.) Mizzou went 8-4 in the regular season, 4-4 in the SEC. And that’s fine, But truth is, this team had 10-win or 11-win talent. The Tigers should be 10-2 overall. And instead of repeating last season’s 4-4 SEC finish, Mizzou should have gone 6-2 in SEC play. When Odom takes over a team that has Drew Lock — a record-setting passer and future NFL starting quarterback — as the catalyst and can only go .500 as a member of the weaker SEC division over the last two seasons … I’m sorry, but that doesn’t warrant dancing in the streets.

— It isn’t that Odom would be a disaster hire at Louisville. He’s still growing as a coach. Odom could be very good in short time; his best work is still to come. But for now, would Louisville or Colorado (another rumor) really energize the fan base by hiring a coach that took over a successful MU program — except for one bad year, 2015 –and has never been ranked in the AP Top 25 poll during his three seasons?  A coach who is 16-18 overall vs. FBS competition, with a horrible 4-17 mark against winning FBS teams? A coach that’s 1-8 against ranked teams, and is 11-17 vs. Power 5 conference opponents? Better call security to handle the stampede at the ticket office.

— In fairness to Odom: if we’re talking about value for the dollar — driven by results — he’s better than multiple SEC coaches who draw larger salaries. If Matt Luke (Ole Miss) is making $3 million annually, then Odom should be making $3 million annually. WIll Muschamp (South Carolina) is being paid $3.1 million in salary; over the last two seasons he’s 9-7 in the SEC compared to Odom’s 8-8. Not much difference there. And Odom certainly should be paid at a level higher than Vanderbilt’s Derek Mason ($2.72 million.) To put it another way: Odom ranks 14th out of 14 coaches in salary. Is  Missouri the worst team in the conference? Hell, no. The Tigers are a middle-tier SEC program. Odom should be paid in that range.

— Odom would be making a mistake to overplay his hand at Mizzou. He isn’t a revenue producer. Ticket sales remain flat. He doesn’t froth up much enthusiasm. And if Mizzou comes up with a reasonable offer for Odom and he still runs off, anyway … well, then that would make Odom a fraud. And I don’t think that the man is a fraud.

— On the other side of this: Odom is still a young head coach;  he turned 42 years old today. (Monday.) Missouri gave Odom his first opportunity to be a a HC … and at a place where he graduated, played football, and began his coaching career at the assistant level. That means something. That’s worth something — especially if Odom continues to develop on the job. And in the unlikely event of Odom leaving — the Mizzou administration can’t afford to throw down a huge amount of money in the competition for a coveted outside coaching candidate to replace Odom. (Then again, Missouri offensive coordinator Derek Dooley could be a candidate for the gig.)

— Continuity is important … especially if that continuity translates into improved results. And even though Odom’s record is easy to pick apart, the bottom line displays progress: 4-8 in Odom’s first year … 7-6 in his second season … and 8-4 with a chance at a 9th win to cap his third year.

It make sense for Odom to stay and continue to move the Mizzou program forward. If Odom can do that while coaching in the toughest college football conference in these United States, then he’ll be able to cash in for massive payday at some point.

And it makes sense for Mizzou to stay the course with Odom; that’s why director of athletics Jim Sterk is reportedly engaging The Supreme Ruler, Sexton, in contract talks to put some sugar in Odom’s paycheck.

If Odom keeps winning, the fans will come. If Odom wins and fans don’t want to support a winning team in the most heralded conference in CFB,  then Sterk and Mizzou have a much bigger problem to deal with than concerns over Barry Odom’s charisma level.  For now, the coach and Mizzou need to stay together and build.

And for Mizzou, that means a good-faith enhancement of Odom’s contract. And no apologies are necessary for that. Again, I fuss over Odom’s poor record against winning FBS teams. And have been frustrated by watching Odom’s teams drop some wins on the floor.

I’m also into the metrics. I respect the metrics. And as I’ve mentioned recently, Missouri is highly regarded in the Sagarin ratings (13th in the nation), the ESPN Football Power Index (12th nationally), and the S&P+ ratings (16th.)

And even if we nitpick the record — as I do — I firmly believe that Mizzou deserves a spot in the AP Top 25. And that isn’t a contradiction. My gripe is that the Tigers should have two more wins. But even with an 8-4 record, a four-game winning streak and one of the 10 most difficult schedules in the nation, Missouri has done more than enough to be in the Top 25.

As for Odom’s part: instead of chasing another job, coach needs to spend his time chasing Kelly Bryant or another talented quarterback to take over for Lock next season.

Update: On Monday afternoon, Odom informed Mizzou beatwriters that he has “no interest” in the Louisville job. 

Two reactions:

1. Talks with Mizzou are proceeding well.

2. Sexton created the desired ripple of attention.

Thanks for reading …


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