As a lifelong Mizzou fan, there have been several games in which I’ve wondered after a particular loss “how does the coach recover from this.” Unfortunately for coaches, usually when fans, media and the administration reach the point of asking that question, the answer is pretty clear. They don’t.
In 1986, Woody Widenhofer’s second year as head coach, the wheels came off Woody’s Wagon. He took the Tigers to Oklahoma and lost the “Norman Conquest,” 77-0 to the Sooners. 77-0 is one thing, but at halftime with OU up 49-0, legend has it that a former Mizzou assistant coach, then an assistant to Barry Switzer with the Sooners, actually had a note delivered to the Mizzou coaching staff that they were in the wrong defense.
It didn’t matter. Oklahoma quarterback Jamelle Holieway played only four series in the game, and started the second half without pads, in the stands, signing autographs. Woody never recovered. He lasted two more seasons, but the thrashing he took on that November day in Norman pretty much sealed his fate.
In 1993, the man who replaced Widenhofer, Bob Stull, took the Tigers to College Station, and his team was walloped 73-0. Again on that Saturday, I asked myself “how does he bounce back from this?” Well, he didn’t.
Missouri finished 3-7-1 that season and Stull was fired. Stull is remembered for his team being set back in the infamous “5th down game” loss to Colorado in 1990, but the death blow was the 73-0 loss to the Aggies. After being fired by Mizzou, Stull never coached again, but his staff ended up ok.
Among the members of that 1993 staff were current Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter, current Ravens offensive coordinator Marty Mohrninweg, current Eagles linebackers coach Ken Flajole and current Chiefs special teams coordinator Dave Toub. By the way, Toub’s boss in Kansas City, Andy Reid, was with Stull through 1991.
Saturday was another “how does he recover from this” day for a Mizzou coach. No, it wasn’t an epic blowout as the Widenhofer and Stull games were the two worst margins of defeat in Mizzou history. This one was only 51-45 to Middle Tennessee of Conference USA.
Yes, Barry Odom is in his first year at the helm. A loss to Middle Tennessee isn’t considered catastrophic in some circles, because the Blue Raiders are a good team with a great passing game.
But for me, this is a disaster.
It was a mid-season home game. It was HOMECOMING, for God’s sake. You can say Middle Tennessee is pretty good. They are. But Missouri is in the SEC. There is no scenario in which any SEC team should find it acceptable to lose their homecoming game to Middle Tennessee. The fact some people had the Blue Raiders rated ahead of Mizzou before the game is reason enough to question where the Mizzou program is. Odom wasn’t left an SEC champion by Gary Pinkel, but the cupboard wasn’t bare, either.
Last year, Odom coordinated the fifth ranked defense in all of college football at Missouri. When he became head coach, he almost completely changed the coaching staff he inherited from Pinkel, including hiring former Mizzou player DeMontie Cross as his defensive coordinator. Cross completely changed the defensive scheme, and the results have been catastrophic. On Saturday, they gave up 300 yards rushing and 584 overall to a team that was in third place in Conference USA’s eastern division, and had averaged 175 yards per game on the ground.
A defense that was fifth in the nation last year and returned seven starters…including it’s second through sixth leading tacklers…is now ranked 109th of 128 FBS teams in the country.
Again, there isn’t an explanation, there is no excuse for a loss like this. When a team commits thirteen penalties, including an offensive pass interference that costs them a touchdown, that’s ultimately on the head coach. When a fumble after a 40 yard gain results in a touchback, that comes back to the head coach. When a penalty negates a 57 yard punt and leads to a bad snap, giving the opposition seven yards to score, that falls on the head coach.
All of these things individually fall on the players, but when the players collectively make so many mistakes, it comes back to coaching. When a team descends defensively like this one has when the head coach was the defensive coordinator, that’s on him.
Will new Mizzou athletic director Jim Sterk pull the plug on Odom after one year? Unlikely, even though Sterk has the “I want my guy” excuse in his back pocket. This month, Mizzou has received it’s two largest donations ever to the athletic department, $10 million and $8 million to upgrade their facilities. Do those donations need to be protected by a greater chance of winning? Those are answers we don’t have, but surely Sterk does.
If ever there was a time for a one-and-done coach at Mizzou to hire a clear upgrade, this is the time. All Sterk has to do is say that he doesn’t like the direction of the program he just took over.
An answer we DO have is that it’s unlikely that Odom, as a head coach of a Southeast Conference team that lost a homecoming game to Middle Tennessee, will recover from that loss. This one affects fans, recruits, and donors. And with a winning coach like Les Miles available, Mizzou should pursue the best thing for their program.