If Missouri director of athletics Jim Sterk isn’t on the spot already, he probably will be soon. What should the AD do with head coach Barry Odom?
The answer, for now, is simple: nothing. Let the season play out.
The answer also provides an end-run juke with a stiff-arm maneuver to fend off the necessity of dealing with unpleasant truths. All of the speculation about Odom’s future can be tabled — if not entirely avoided — for now.
That doesn’t erase what most of us are thinking.
1. Odom already was a drain on fan enthusiasm and revenue.
2. Mizzou just invested millions and millions to complete the south end zone expansion. There are bills to pay. And empty seats to fill.
3. The 2019 Mizzou season has taken a depressing, negative turn. This shouldn’t be happening. Not in Year Four. Not after Missouri had supposedly turned the corner again.
But when you turn the corner, sometimes you’ll walk into trouble. Deeper trouble.
For Mizzou, the timing is especially brutal.
Missouri couldn’t have ordered up a softer, more favorable schedule in 2019. It was a menu loaded with easy wins and few real challenges.
The feast included a laughably easy home schedule that presented a bunch of pastries and one nationally prominent opponent (Florida, Nov. 16.)
Mizzou thus became the only team in the 14-member SEC that could inflate its win total during a comfy-cozy stretch of five consecutive home games that contained only one threat, South Carolina. No one else in the SEC had the luxury of playing more than four straight home games this season.
Mizzou has one truly tough road game (Georgia, Nov. 8.) And in the East-West crossover games, Mizzou had to worry about Ole Miss and Arkansas — two contingents that, as of now, have a combined 5-11 record including 2-8 in the conference.
So if the goal — at least in part — was to take a mediocre MU program and distort reality by concocting a misleadingly positive record, the plan was firmly in place. It would take a significant display of inept coaching, and really bad football, to mess up this cake.
Except that Odom and his team are screwing it up.
Saturday’s 29-7 washout at Kentucky was the latest embarrassment.
Mizzou entered Lexington as a 10 and ½ point favorite and lost by 22.
The week before Mizzou strutted into Nashville as a 21-point betting-line heavy and lost by seven. The Tigers went into the season opener at Wyoming as an 18-point favorite and lost by six after being outscored 37-17 the rest of the way.
Mizzou is 0-3 as a double-digit favorite this season. And the Tigers had absolutely nothing to feel proud coming out of all three defeats.
This also fits into a trend.
Since Odom became the head coach in 2016, Mizzou is 22-11 as the betting-line favorite. You may wonder: what’s wrong with that?
Dave Matter of the Post-Dispatch (and STLtoday) did the research on this. If I may update Dave’s numbers to include Saturday’s failure at Kentucky, here’s what we have:
The 22-11 record as a favorite, a .667 winning percentage, actually is tied with Arkansas for the worst in the SEC since 2016. (The Razorbacks are 10-5 when installed as the betting-line choice.)
Mizzou is a chronic underachiever. Under Odom the Tigers lose to many games they’re supposed to win, and should win.
I’ve written about this before — as recently as last week — but Odom simply can’t be allowed to hide behind a bunch of late-season wins (2017, 2018) against dead-skunk teams that had nothing to play for.
Let’s peel back the cover and get to the heart of the Odom record. Numbers courtesy of CFBstats.com …
So if you can’t beat the good teams, the winning teams … and you are scrubbing the bottom of the SEC with Arkansas in winning games vs. underdog opponents …where, exactly, is the substance? What is the reason for staying on a wayward path?
The fiasco at Kentucky may have been a new low for Odom’s program.
Missouri lost to a backup quarterback, this time a third-string quarterback, for the second straight week.
The third-string Kentucky QB, Lynn Bowden Jr., is a converted wide receiver. On a rainy night that dampened enthusiasm for passing the ball, Bowden attempted only seven throws in the game, completing three.
This was a 100 percent certainty: Kentucky would avoid flinging the forward pass to rely almost exclusively on the running game. Bowden, a talented runner, would be the focal point of the Wildcats’ ground-ball express.
Despite the blatantly predictable one-dimensional strategy of the Kentucky offense, the Mizzou defense was mud-stomped for 297 ground yards and four rushing touchdowns.
And on a night when Mizzou had the chance to focus solely on containing Bowden, he destroyed the Tigers with 204 yards rushing including two touchdowns.
That was just the worst part.
The Mizzou offense was impotent, with only 289 total yards overall, and mere 3.7 yards per rush. The Tigers were invaded for four sacks, dropped at least seven passes, and fumbled five times, losing two.
Mizzou quarterback Kelly Bryant was a liability for the second game in succession. Bryant was rendered irrelevant at Kentucky long before he left Saturday’s game with a strained hamstring.
Offensive coordinator Derek Dooley is lost, unable to find solutions for reviving his offense from a dormant, uninspiring state.
Mizzou allegedly has a first-tea, All-America tight end in Albert Okwuegbunam — but where was Albert O on Saturday night? He didn’t catch a pass. He wasn’t a factor in the game plan. Why? Missouri needed someone — anyone –to step up and make some plays at Kentucky. The massive and mobile Albert O is a matchup nightmare for defenses. No worries; his own coaching staff and quarterbacks are taking him out of the game. This is crazy.
Mizzou’s lack of discipline was appalling: eight more penalties for 75 yards. Combining the losses at Vanderbilt and Kentucky, Mizzou was penalized 20 times for 195 yards. And what’s up with all of the head-hunting blows, and ugly cheap shots? Odom and his staff can’t control their players.
The special teams were awful again. The Tigers don’t have anyone that can kick a field goal. And Kentucky burned Mizzou with a fake punt that set up a touchdown.
Odom appears to be cracking under pressure. Trailing 15-0 with 44 seconds remaining in the first half, Mizzou took over deep in its territory. Odom called timeout after a 7-yard completion. He called another timeout after Kentucky sacked Bryant. Why? Mizzou wasn’t a threat to score. And with 30 seconds left, Kentucky got a sack-fumble and recovered the loose ball at Missouri’s 20-yard line.
Because Odom used the two timeouts, Kentucky had plenty of time (22 seconds) to work with. (And you wonder why Kentucky coach Mark Stoops owns the Mizzou coaching staff?) Anyway … Tigers defensive tackle Jordan Elliott committed a dumb facemask penalty on first down, and on the next snap Bowden romped in for the touchdown and a 22-0 halftime lead.
This is incomprehensibly bad coaching.
A fourth-year head coach should be getting better … not worse.
I confess I was fooled by the smoke and mirrors for a while. Too many times, actually. I was not only gullible for the “Coach Odom Is Great At Rallying His Teams!” narrative — hell, I helped perpetuate it.
By now you’d think that even the most naive among Mizzou rooters would wise up and walk away from this game of three-card monte.
Will Jim Sterk?
That’s the question we’re looking at. It can’t be ignored.
Thanks for reading …