As he met with reporters before the Braggin’ Rights game, new Missouri football coach Barry Odom joked Wednesday that he had to be reminded Christmas was coming.
The last month has been some kind of whirlwind for Odom, who was hired Dec. 4 to succeed Gary Pinkel after a sterling first season with the Tigers as defensive coordinator.
Odom, a linebacker at MU from 1996-1999, addressed the challenges and triumphs he’s experienced since taking the reins.
“One of the most important things that I needed to do is recruit our current team,” Odom said. “I think that’s important any time you step into a different role, that you take time and don’t assume anything with your current team.”
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He expressed confidence that the Tigers, who finished 5-7 last season, wouldn’t experience roster attrition before the spring semester starts in mid-January.
Missouri tapped Utah State’s Josh Heupel, who quarterbacked Oklahoma to the 2000 national championship, as its new offensive coordinator and added DeMontie Cross, who played for the Tigers from 1994-1996, as defensive coordinator.
Odom, who will share responsibility for calling the defense with Cross, said he’s waiting to finish hiring his staff until after bowl season, but he confirmed that Andy Hill will return to coaching wide receivers and Cornell Ford will move to the offensive side as running backs coach.
Hill had served as associate head coach/quarterbacks coach since 2013, but he coached receivers at Missouri from 1996-2012.
Ford was a wide receivers coach under Pinkel at Toledo from 1996-2000 and previously coached quarterbacks, running backs and receivers at Marietta College from 1993-1995. He started his career with the Tigers as an outside safeties coach for three seasons before switching to cornerbacks in 2004.
Ryan Walters, who followed Odom to Missouri from Memphis last offseason, will remain as the safeties coach.
Odom also confirmed that defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski wouldn’t return next season.
“Craig’s done an unbelievable job, and I’ve said a number of times that (he’s one of), if he’s not, the best D-line coach in the country,” Odom said. “He’ll be a coordinator and will be very successful wherever he ends up.”
He also addressed the departure of Pat Ivey, Missouri’s associate athletic director for athletic performance who had been the Tigers’ primary strength and conditioning coach since 2004.
“Anytime there’s change within the leadership of a program, there’s always going to be some movement and some change. Pat has done an unbelievable job for a long time here.”
Odom is meeting with several candidates to replace Ivey and said cutting ties with former Pinkel staffers was a gut-wrenching process.
“I don’t really like thinking back to that, because it’s very difficult on a personal level for guys that I’ve known for a number of years,” Odom said. “They’re all really good guys, really good people and great coaches. All will be very successful where they end up.”
Odom said he knows from experience that recruiting is an especially volatile part of an already volatile business.
Missouri has had five players decommit since Pinkel announced Nov. 13 he had follicular lymphoma and would resign after the season.
Odom also has landed two commitments, although East St. Louis, Ill., guard Tre’vour Simms, a flip from Illinois, appears to be in limbo.
“There’s always commitments, decommitments, reservations. ‘Are you dating?’ ‘What’s the deal?’ ” he said. “Across the country, there’s change. I never did think stepping into this that it would be smooth sailing.”
Odom, who also reinstated quarterback Maty Mauk after an eight-game suspension, is confident Missouri will have a terrific class in place by national signing day on Feb. 3.
“It’s a long time between now and the first Wednesday in February,” Odom said. “I’m excited about the core group of guys that we have that will build on this first class.”
He said offensive and defensive line will always be a top priority for his program in recruiting and indicated that the Tigers will adjust how they recruit some positions, including tight end, to account for schematic changes.
But Missouri will remain selective.
“You can’t just, if you want to sign three defensive lineman, don’t just go take three because you’re saying you’re going to get three,” Odom said. “Get the right fit of what you can think can help you go win a championship.”
As hectic as it’s been, Odom remains pumped for the opportunity to coach his alma mater and try to build off the foundation laid by Pinkel, who resigned after the season as the winningest coach in Missouri history.
“It’s been great,” Odom said. “I embrace the opportunity to lead this program, and I don’t take one second for granted, representing the guys that were here long before me to get Missouri where it is today.”