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Barry Odom’s Recruitment of Kelly Bryant Was a Program-Changing Success

Barry Odom had himself a week.

A VERY big week.

Winning an intense recruiting battle for Clemson transfer quarterback Kelly Bryant.

Earning a new contract that gave Odom a healthy raise, enhanced job security and increased stature.

It was one helluva week, yes.

A week that, in many ways, put Missouri’s football coach in a positive new light.

A week that largely changed the perception of Odom.

If you weren’t sure if Odom would grow with sufficient speed as a young head coach … or feared he would struggle to create energy and buzz around his program … or had doubts about his game management … or believed that Mizzou would be browsing for a new head coach soon.

Well, this is the week that altered Coach Odom’s trajectory. A week that erased many doubts, and eased the anxiety, and increased the fan-and-media confidence level in Odom’s ability to succeed and sustain as the leader of Missouri football.

Odom has more to prove, of course. Beginning with the 2019 season, Missouri must claim more victories in games against FBS teams with a winning record, score more upset victories against ranked teams, and find ways to win SEC games that are up for grabs instead of finding ways to lose … and  yes, I’m talking about the consecutive losses to South Carolina and Kentucky earlier this season. By handing both of those games away, the Tigers finished 8-4 instead of 10-2. And were 4-4 in the SEC instead of 6-2.

Though I adamantly supported and defended his hiring when Odom took over for the retiring Gary Pinkel in 2016, I’ve had serious concerns about Odom along the way. But he’s getting better.  The quality of the football team, the recruiting, the coaching and the personality.

Under Odom, the Tigers sure seem like they’re moving in the desired direction.

In his first 18 games as Missouri’s head coach, Odom went 5-13 overall and 2-10 in the SEC.

In his last 19 games, Odom is 14-5 overall and 8-4 in the conference.

The Tigers are ranked 23rd in the nation by the CFB committee — and should have a better ranking.

I say that because Mizzou is a darling of the advanced-metric systems such as the Football Power Index (12th nationally), Sagarin (13th), S&P+ at Football Outsiders (16th) and Massey (11th.)

We can parse that record, sure. But let’s be fair here;  progress has been made.

It made sense for Bryant to choose Missouri for several reasons including :

The starting job in 2019 is open. And if Bryant stays healthy, that starting job is guaranteed for him. There are no challengers or threats or distractions. He owns it. And there will be no bait-and-switch to worry about.

⇒ Mizzou’s offense is packed with returning playmakers … runners … receivers … big-man blockers.

Missouri offensive coordinator Derek Dooley did a good job of refining starting quarterback Drew Lock, and making him better in this, his final season. An Dooley contoured the offense to make it a more customized fit for Lock’s skill set.

And Bryant had to be excited by all of that. Bryant, succeeding the immensely gifted Deshaun Watson at quarterback, led Clemson to a 16-2 record as a starter and a spot in the 2017-season College Football Playoff semifinals. Bryant is a talented quarterback out of the classic dual-threat mode. But Clemson had recruited a true freshman, Trevor Lawrence, who is a pure passer. And no doubt about it, Lawrence is the superior passer.

So when Clemson elevated Lawrence to the starting job for the fifth game this season, Bryant announced his withdraw from the team and made plans to transfer. He has only one season of remaining eligibility, and wants to make the most of it. It was important for Bryant to find the right fit. And Mizzou had it.

But it wasn’t that simple.

To secure the coveted Bryant’s commitment, Odom had to ward off determined recruiting efforts from Auburn, Arkansas, North Carolina and Mississippi State. Mizzou faced some potential disadvantages.

+ Geography. Bryant is from South Carolina. Auburn, North Carolina and Mississippi State were closer to home.

+ The personal connection from Bryant’s past. Arkansas had a horrendous season (0-8 in SEC play) under first-year head coach Chad Morris. He’s a good coach, but is conducting a massive (and necessary) rebuild that prompted 21 eligible players to leave the program. But Morris and Bryant have a tight relationship. Morris, then an assistant at Clemson, recruited Bryant — then coached Bryant. It isn’t a good time to sign on with Arkansas, but Bryant trusts and likes Morris very much, and Odom had to overcome the Morris-Bryant connection.

+ A late developing, and more appealing, option.  Mack Brown came out of coaching retirement, left ESPN, and became the head coach at North Carolina following Larry Fedora’s firing. Brown was a successful, charismatic HC at North Carolina, and then Texas. In 16 seasons at Texas, Brown had a .767 winning percentage and his 2009 team won the national championship behind dual-threat QB Vince Young. After taking over the Tar Heels — and immediately raising the level of excitement and optimism around the program — Brown made a late recruiting run at Bryant. North Carolina became a more appealing option with Brown as coach, and the university wasn’t that far from Bryant’s home. But Bryant held firm; he was still thinking favorably of Mizzou.

+ Mississippi State coach Joe Moorhead has a reputation for devising great offenses. Moorhead is a quarterback-enhancing coach. He was the offensive coordinator at Penn State, putting together an attack that turned running back Saquon Barkley and quarterback Trace McSorley loose on the Big Ten. Barkley became the No. 2 overall pick (to the NY Giants) in the 2018 NFL Draft. In three seasons as a the starter, McSorley passed for 9,469 yards and 73 touchdowns. And Penn State will go into its bowl game with a 31-8 record over the last three years with McSorley flying the airplane. For a quarterback seeking a new home, Moorhead certainly had credibility. And Mississippi State is a good team.

+ The biggest threat to Mizzou was Auburn. Head coach Guz Malzahn has had tremendous success with transfer quarterbacks during his career as a HC or offensive coordinator. Most notable? Cam Newton, who switched to Auburn (from Florida) in 2010. That season Newton won the Heisman Trophy while leading War Eagle to the SEC Championship, and the BCS national championship. Newton was selected first overall (by Carolina) in the 2011 NFL Draft. 2013, the dynamic, dual-threat transfer quarterback Nick Marshall became Malzahn’s starter and Auburn (12-2) rolled all the way to the BCS national championship game before losing to Florida State. And though he had a mediocre 2018 season, transfer QB Jarrett Stidham led Auburn to 10 wins and the SEC West title in 2017.

+ The desperate Malzahn was so determined to get Bryant to change his mind about Mizzou, he made a last-minute trip to Bryant’s home to make a final recruiting pitch. That had to make Mizzou a little nervous, but Bryant remained true to his new school. Malzahn couldn’t get Bryant to flip.  Mizzou was KB’s destination.

This was just great work by Odom and Dooley.

I ain’t going to lie; at the beginning of this process I didn’t think Mizzou had a chance to win the recruiting melee for Bryant. And even as Mizzou stayed in the race, I remained skeptical.

Bryant won’t be able to say no to Morris, his old coach. The loyalty will influence the decision. It’ll be Arkansas. 

And …

How do you turn down Auburn? More prestigious program than Mizzou. Much closer to home. Bryant could have followed the same path as Cam Newton. Lots of plusses. Auburn is erratic, but we’re talking about a program that’s defeated Alabama three times in the last nine years. A program that’s played for the national championship twice this decade — winning one, losing one. 

And  …

Watch out for ol’ Mack Brown. He’s back in town. He’ll get Bryant’s attention and Bryant will take a second, closer look at North Carolina. He’ll be so close to home, and will be in the ACC, and UNC plays Clemson in 2019.  Mack Brown has a chance … 

In the end, Bryant chose Mizzou and stayed with his decision.

This was a huge boost for Odom and the Mizzou football program.

A quarterback who not too long ago was leading vaunted Clemson into a playoff matchup against Alabama thought so highly of Mizzou, he rejected overtures from more accomplished coaches and higher-profile programs.

This was the biggest win of Odom’s career.

And this recruiting triumph should go a long way in changing the way Odom and MU are viewed by potential recruits, the national media and fans around the SEC … including Mizzou fans.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie