NCAA Football

How Has Barry Odom Survived in the Cutthroat SEC?

Barry Odom
Missouri head coach Barry Odom looks out at the field during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Connecticut, Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017, in East Hartford, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

With Florida’s firing of Jim McElwain Sunday, the SEC’s ability to devour coaches remains unmatched in recent years.

Unfortunately for coaches that have tried to win a league championship with Nick Saban coaching Alabama for the last eleven years, schools that think they SHOULD be like Alabama have fired coaches with the frequency of radio personalities.

McElwain’s Gators were 10-4 and went to the SEC championship game and the Citrus Bowl two years ago, in his first year.  Last year, they were 9-4 and went to the SEC title game and the Outback bowl.  This year, with a hint of adversity at 3-4, he’s out.

Since the start of this decade, the only SEC teams NOT to fire a coach are Missouri, Mississippi State and, of course, Alabama.  Tennessee fired Derek Dooley after three seasons, and appear poised to jettison Butch Jones after this, his fifth year.  Kentucky dumped Joker Phillips after his third season in 2012, and seem happy with Mark Stoops, who has been there since.  At Vanderbilt, Robbie Caldwell was a one-and-done in 2010 before James Franklin took over.  Derek Fisher has been the coach since Franklin went to Penn State after the 2013 season.  Georgia fired Mark Richt after the 2015 season, his fifteenth there.  At South Carolina, Steve Spurrier beat the posse by retiring during the 2015 season.

In the SEC’s western division, Auburn fired Gene Chizik two years after he won a National Championship, and replaced him with Gus Malzahn.  LSU got rid of Les Miles after he went 114-34 in Baton Rouge.  Texas A&M replaced Mike Sherman after the 2011 season, hiring Kevin Sumlin to replace him.  Arkansas’ Bobby Petrino got involved with a hiring scandal of a former female student that he took on a motorcycle ride, and was removed after the 2011 season.  And Ole Miss fired Houston Nutt after four years in 2011, and the scandal ridden Hugh Freeze after last season.

The level of impatience with SEC coaches that have reasonable levels of success is remarkable.  Tennessee won a championship in 1998, and can’t seem to be happy with their hires since.  Dooley was 15-21 in his three years, and Jones is 30-21 so far.  His teams have gone 9-4 in each of the last two seasons, although they have struggled at 3-5 so far this season.

Phillips was 13-24, following a string of eight consecutive Wildcats coaches with losing records.  The last Kentucky coach to post a better than .500 record was Blanton Collier, who was there from 1954-1961.

Vandy was 48-124 in the fifteen years prior to Caldwell’s arrival.  When James Franklin arrived, he turned the program around, but Derek Mason has run into the same problems that most Vanderbilt coaches do, going 13-23.

Richt was 140-48, including 9-3 in his last year at Georgia.  In fifteen years, he had nine double digit seasons, and two more nine-win campaigns.

Prior to Spurrier’s arrival in 2005, South Carolina had had eight head coaches in 45 years, and two of those eight had posted winning records.  Spurrier went 86-49.  His .637 winning percentage was the best for any Gamecocks coach that worked more than two years…and those coaches worked before World War II ended.

Chizik won every conceivable coach of the year honor in 2010, when he led Auburn to the title.  By 2012, he was out of a job.

Sherman was 25-25 at A&M, and was fired a year after going 9-4 and taking his team to the Cotton Bowl.

It seems that most SEC programs don’t recognize that 9-3 is pretty darn good.  Under Mike Alden, Mizzou had enough self-awareness to recognize some of the inherent limitations in the program.  But the Tigers are taking it to another level now.

If Georgia, Florida, South Carolina and Tennessee of the SEC east are striving to improve upon coaches that all have gone 9-4 in their last two seasons, how can Missouri be patient with sub .500 records?  Missouri was right there with those schools very few years ago…like Florida going to back-to-back SEC championship games in 2013 and 2014.  We all know what the program is capable of.

I hope Jim Sterk doesn’t look at the Mizzou football job as some charity case that a guy should keep simply because he’s a native son.  I don’t think Sterk does.  College football is big business.  Missouri isn’t drawing fans to their games.  Yes, they’ve had consecutive wins over Idaho and UConn, but they aren’t playing in the Sun Belt or the American Athletic Conference.

This is the SEC.  Everyone else is really trying hard to win, even replacing reasonably successful coaches.  For their sake, I hope Mizzou shows that they’re trying in football, too.

More: If Barry Odom Goes, Here’s the Short List of Coaches for Mizzou Football