Missouri football coach Barry Odom said Monday that his decision to fire defensive coordinator DeMontie Cross over the weekend had “zero to do with on-the-field performance.”
The dismissal came Sunday night, a day after Missouri opened its Southeastern Conference schedule with a 31-13 loss to South Carolina. But the performance — or nonperformance, as Odom qualified it — had no bearing on Cross’ dismissal, he insisted during a teleconference with reporters.
“More to do with philosophical differences would be the biggest deciding factor in making the move,” Odom said. “I feel very, very strongly about the staff we have in place to mentor and guide our student-athletes in every area of their life, not just on the football field but in every area — academically, socially and how to treat others with great respect and make our society better. I feel very confident in our abilities to have a positive impact and positive difference in their life.”
Odom said he consulted with athletic director Jim Sterk before making the change in his coaching staff. He informed the team of the move during a meeting Sunday afternoon.
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Cross was hired in December 2015, plucked from TCU in one of Odom’s first moves as the Tigers’ head coach.
But midway through last year, with the Tigers’ defense struggling, Odom assumed the reins of the defense, leaving Cross as the team’s inside linebackers coach and defensive coordinator, though the latter in title only. Odom plans to continue to call defensive sets moving forward and said he will take over the inside linebackers coaching, along with help from his staff, including graduate assistants.
Missouri plays host to Purdue at 3 p.m. Saturday in Columbia.
“Defensively, we’ll work strongly together to build a gameplan that will give our kids an opportunity to go play fast and give us an opportunity to put us in a position to have success when we get back into the competitive arena on Saturday.”
Missouri allowed 43 points against Missouri State in the season opener, thought it showed some improvement in the loss to South Carolina on Saturday. Still, the Tigers rank 82nd in the nation in rush defense and 91st in pass defense through two weeks. It’s not the small sample size it might seem. A year ago, they allowed 31.5 points and 479.7 yards per game.
For the second straight fall, that defense will encounter a significant change in the middle of its season. In 2016, it was the playcaller. In 2017, it’s an abrupt termination.
“I don’t know if you can ever say it’s the right time or the wrong time,” Odom said. “I know the staff that we have in place — I’m confident we can go do what we need to do to give ourselves a chance to be successful. They don’t put a watch on when you make a decision when you’re presented with the things you gotta do to move your program forward.”
The move will add more to Odom’s plate, with him now overseeing the inside linebackers, a job that fell to Cross. A year ago, Odom acknowledged concern he had tasked himself with too much in his first season as a head coach yet still calling defensive plays.
He downplayed that worry Monday, a day after supplementing his job description.
“For me, I’m in a good spot,” he said. “I know that I’ve got to do a better job coaching this team. We failed Saturday night. We’ve also got to look at it(as) we’re 1-1 and we’ve got a lot of football to play. I’ve got to get this team developed, and we’ve got to clean up what we can get fixed, which is a lot.”