How do we determine what’s best for the Mizzou football program? Sunday’s loss to Florida dropped the Tigers to 5-5 after a 5-1 start. They have a home game against Tennessee on Saturday night before wrapping up against Arkansas the day after Thanksgiving. We still don’t know about bowl eligibility for this year’s Tigers squad…even if they win six games…because the NCAA continues to drag its feet regarding Mizzou’s appeal of a bowl ban because a tutor took classes for athletes.
I’ll start with this. In my opinion, when Mizzou is going good, it’s typically a 7-5 or 8-4 regular season program. In the 40 seasons prior to Barry Odom taking over, the football team has had either seven or eight wins twelve times, thirty percent of the time. Keep in mind that there was a thirteen straight losing season stretch in there from 1984 through 1996, so Mizzou wasn’t going good. And there was the Gary Pinkel exception, when things were going GREAT. Pinkel was a transcendent coach who led the program to five double digit win seasons in an eight-year span, and totally maxed out the program. I’m of the opinion that if Pinkel had taken over Alabama and his college teammate Nick Saban had taken over Mizzou, Pinkel would have done at ‘Bama what Saban did, and Saban would have done at Mizzou what Pinkel did.
So, my reasonable, and I think fair, expectation of the program is to win seven or eight games a year, and occasionally have a shot at an SEC east title. And if Odom can get his team to win it’s last two games he’ll get to seven wins. That would be seven- or eight-win campaigns in three straight and three out of his four years. If he doesn’t get to that point this year, we can have a different discussion. But we must remember that Mizzou had one of the top defenses in the country before their best defensive player, Cale Garrett, got hurt. When he was injured in the first half of game five against Troy, Garrett led the team with 39 tackles, had three interceptions (two returned for touchdowns) and a fumble recovery. And he was the signal caller and heartbeat of the defense. On offense, quarterback Kelly Bryant was injured for the better part of three games; losses to Vanderbilt, Kentucky and Georgia. That’s not an excuse for scoring one touchdown in their last thirteen quarters, but it certainly is a reason. Another reason is the disintegration of the quality of Mizzou’s offensive line. They aren’t getting any push in the running game, and Bryant is consistently running for his life.
Back in 2011, a year after leading Illinois to their first bowl win in twelve years, Ron Zook had his team at 6-0, but finished up at 6-6. Athletic Director Mike Thomas dumped Zook, saying after the firing “To me, really, you have to have success within your own conference. The last seven years we won roughly 32 percent of our Big Ten games.” In Odom’s four years, Mizzou has gone 12-18 (40%) in the SEC. He needs to do better. Missouri should regularly handle Vanderbilt, Kentucky and South Carolina…and the way things are going…Tennessee. We should note that Illinois, a program similar to Missouri, has gone 32-63 and is bowl eligible for the second time in eight seasons since Zook was fired. He had led them to three bowl games in his last five years, so that was a situation of “be careful what you wish for.”
Can Mizzou get better results on the field? Sure it can. We saw it with Pinkel. But there isn’t a Pinkel coaching at a mid-major that I see that’s ready to head to Columbia. According to Forbes, Mizzou’s football revenues are thirteenth in the fourteen team SEC at just over $29 million, ahead of only Vanderbilt. Texas A&M is eighth at $70.4 million, Arkansas is seventh at $71.2 million, and Tennessee, with their massive stadium and great attendance, first in the conference and in the nation at $110.7 million.
Mizzou’s revenues will rise with the addition of their new south end zone project, but that didn’t appear to be very well attended in 2019. Even if they WANT to replace Odom, does Missouri have the financial means to buy he and his staff out and bring in a new staff? Odom is making just over $3 million, tied for the lowest in the conference. Five of the other thirteen coaches in the SEC make more than twice what Odom does. Most established coaches want to have a healthy budget for their staff. Until Odom got his extension last season, LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda made more than he did. This year, 21 college assistants made more than $1 million. To be an SEC contender, is Mizzou ready to swim in those financial waters? And if they aren’t, who can blame them based on their revenues?
I get as tired as anyone of the unexpected losses (Wyoming, Vanderbilt and Kentucky) and the lack of discipline. This year’s Missouri team is one of the most penalized in college football. Only seventeen of 130 FBS teams have committed more than Mizzou’s seventy penalties that have cost them 676 yards. Missouri is 58th in turnover margin at plus-one. They haven’t done the little things to avoid losing, and haven’t had the offense to simply win games.
Taking it all into account: what my expectations for the program are, what I think Odom can do with the program, who they might get as a replacement with the money they have and the losses of their top players on offense and defense this year, I’m willing to wait out the rest of the season to see what the Tigers do.
They need to sell more tickets to generate more revenue. Ultimately, any coach that goes 8-4 or 7-5 is going to have the same problems getting people into Memorial Stadium as Odom. So, unless AD Jim Sterk has a plan to bring in a guy who can do what Pinkel did, if they get to seven wins they should probably stand pat with the head coach and make changes in the staff.