Despite realizing a long-held career ambition, Missouri football coach Barry Odom can admit now that he wasn’t happy in 2016.
It’s not just because the Tigers struggled to a 4-8 record, including a Homecoming loss to Middle Tennessee, during his first season last fall.
Nor is it strictly a reflection of finishing last in the SEC East as a once-vaunted defense — expected to be his coaching forte after four seasons as a defensive coordinator at Memphis and Mizzou — leaking more than a rusted-through bucket.
“I’ve developed the ability to say no to some things outside that, quite honestly, last year I didn’t feel like I could,” Odom said. “I didn’t feel like I could say no to anything — not only in this office, but going to speak at the Hy-Vee Breakfast Club. That’s all great stuff and I know that’s part of it, but there are times I didn’t make the program better on some of the things I said yes to.”
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Now, Odom’s narrowed his focus to the one thing most central to his job.
“I’ve just spent a lot more time coaching football and I’m a lot happier than I was last year at this time,” he said.
Odom’s compulsion for planning and preparation strayed into obsessive micromanagement during his first season as head coach, but he understands that’s not a recipe for building on-field success.
“It’s OK to let (Tigers director of football operations) Mike McHugh go plan the football banquet,” Odom said. “It’s OK to let somebody go decide what we’re wearing for practice. … I am hardheaded, but I’ve been able to give some of that up.”
The result is a more-settled Odom as Mizzou prepares to open spring practice Tuesday in Columbia. He’s even loosened the reins on press access in the run-up to the annual Black & Gold Spring Game on April 15 at Memorial Stadium.
“I feel a little more in control right now than I did last year at this point,” Odom said. “I know our roster from top to bottom better than I did last year at this point. I know our staff better than I did at this point. … With the structure of the day-to-day things, you never figure it out. I’m not saying that, but I’ve got a lot more comfort and also feel the urgency on how much better we need to get.”
Odom praised the job the 2017 senior class did setting the tone during the offseason.
The Tigers spent two extra weeks compared to last season focused solely on building strength in the weight room, pushing morning conditioning later in the calendar.
Odom’s happy with the progress so far, but “I’m anxious to get on the field, get into the football side of it with Xs and Os,” he said.
Missouri’s offense set numerous program records, including the mark for average total offense at 500.5 yards per game last season.
Odom, who plans to relinquish sole control of special-teams duties, hopes for even more in the MU attack’s second season under offensive coordinator Josh Heupel.
“The way that they ended the season, the way that they were playing together, you hope you pick that up practice one of spring ball and they continue to develop,” Odom said.
It may not matter much in the quest for Mizzou’s first bowl bid since 2014 unless the defense improves.
The Tigers went from a top-10 defensive team nationally in 2015 to dead last in the 14-team SEC after giving up more than 479 yards per game last season, playing equally poor against the run and pass.