First-year Missouri athletic director Jim Sterk didn’t hire Barry Odom as the Tigers’ football coach.
That doesn’t mean Sterk isn’t a big fan of Odom.
“I’m really invested in him,” Sterk said during a recent appearance in Kansas City. “I think he’s mature beyond his years as a rookie head coach and … I think they got better as the season went on. Winning two out of the three was really good at the end.”
Despite November wins against Vanderbilt and Arkansas, Mizzou finished 4-8 and well shy of the program’s standards Odom inherited after former coach Gary Pinkel’s 15-year tenure.
The Tigers finished 2-6 in the SEC, which tied for the second-worst conference mark since leaving the Big 12.
The Tigers reached a bowl in 10 of Pinkel’s last 13 seasons and hadn’t won four games or fewer since Pinkel’s debut season in 2001, when he took over a program that boasted a .345 winning percentage and only two winning seasons in the previous 17 years (63-122-5 overall).
“I think we’ll only get better,” Sterk said. “It was a first-year offensive coordinator, so anytime you implement a system you’re not going to hit on all cylinders with that. Yet, offensively we did pretty well, and I think we can even do better. Defensively, he had a lot to do being a head coach, and I think he’s inserted himself more and will continue to do that. That makes us better, too.”
Odom was pleased with the progress Mizzou made during spring practice and believes the program is poised to build off the late-season success from his inaugural season.
“As a football program, I know that we hit (our goals) each week and I know that we made a lot of positive strides on both sides of the ball and in the kicking game,” Odom said. “I liked the progress that a lot of our guys that played with experience last year. As a coaching staff, it’s a tremendous opportunity for us to make sure they play better this year than they did last year.”
The Tigers emerged from the spring relatively healthy aside from defensive end Marcell Frazier, who suffered a broken arm but was expected to be back at full strength this week as summer workouts get underway.
Odom also believes help has arrived for a defense that tied for 89th nationally in scoring defense (31.5 points per game) and ranked 118th in total defense (479.7 yards per game).
Mizzou finished in the bottom three of the SEC in every major defensive category — scoring defense, rushing defense, passing defense and total defense.
“Our staff did a great job recruiting this class and I think we addressed some needs, specifically at corner and the defensive line spot, that can help us right away,” said Odom, who said incoming freshmen linebackers Jamal Brooks and Aubrey Miller might provide immediate help.
Nobody wants to go on record saying Missouri should win a certain number of games, but it’s clear that expectations have been raised and returning to a bowl game is a minimum expectation.
“Talking to the leaders of the team, if they don’t win the (SEC East) championship, they’re going to be very disappointed and I think they’ll be surprised,” Sterk said. “They’re focused on doing that, so I think (Odom) has got them in a great place and he’s going to continue to move them forward. He’s a very good coach and he was hired for good reasons and has had great success (as a coordinator), so I’m very excited about the future.”
2017 SCHEDULE BREAKDOWN | Breaking down Mizzou football’s 2017 schedule
SPRING REVIEW: POSITION-BY-POSITION BREAKDOWN
QUARTERBACKS | Drew Lock settles in atop quarterback depth chart
RUNNING BACKS | Damarea Crockett sets sights sky high for 2017
WIDE RECEIVERS | Receivers eye consistency to bolster offense
CORNERBACKS | Graduation takes hefty toll on cornerbacks’ experience
LINEBACKERS | More settled Cale Garrett hopes to help defense rebound
DEFENSIVE TACKLES | Rashad Brandon impresses for rebuilding interior defensive line
DEFENSIVE ENDS | Jordan Harold eager to grow from novelty into productive player