Around noon Wednesday, Missouri football coach Barry Odom joked about his impending introduction to the Southeastern Conference media days by conference commissioner Greg Sankey.
Most of the other coaches have championships and victories for Sankey to promote during such introductions. Not Odom, the first-year head coach of the Tigers.
At the time, few outside of Odom and athletic director Mack Rhoades knew about the conversation they’d had the previous evening, the one in which Rhoades told Odom, the coach he had hired just eight months earlier, that he had accepted the Baylor athletic director job.
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Want a sign of Odom’s coolness under pressure, and that he could be about the best thing Missouri athletics has going for it right now? He held court for nearly an hour engaging reporters on all matters Mizzou — the team, the November protests over racial issues, his debut in the nation’s most rugged conference and replacing Gary Pinkel — without dropping the slightest hint about the athletic department’s rupture.
The three players who accompanied Odom — tight end Sean Culkin, defensive end Charles Harris and linebacker Michael Scherer — had no idea about Rhoades’ departure; neither did the group of administrators who traveled to Alabama with the Tigers.
The athletes were making the rounds with radio and television interviews when the news broke. They found out the same way most did: on their cellphones, in the moment.
So they wound up sharing a day that was supposed to be about them and their teammates with the events on campus. For Scherer, the experience was a flashback to his brother’s wedding last week, when he fielded a barrage of “What’s going on at Mizzou?” questions from friends and family.
“I could definitely deal with not having to answer questions … about this kind of stuff,” Scherer said. “I’d rather not deal with those.”
But, and this really is the most honest response an athlete can provide:
“What are you going to do about it?” Scherer said. “I can’t do anything to change it; nobody here can do anything to change what’s happening. You just have to keep moving forward like nothing’s wrong, like nothing has changed. I’m going to show up tomorrow morning for workouts and work out. Nothing’s going to change because someone’s gone.”
Correct. Culkin said his responsibility is to perform the best he can on Saturdays. Harris wasn’t sure how to respond. Nobody had much time to process the news.
The timing was lousy as Rhoades upstaged Missouri’s moment. Alabama and Arkansas, with glib coach Bret Bielema, were the morning offerings, leaving Missouri and Kentucky in the post-lunch positions. Would anybody be around to hear the Wildcats’ Mark Stoops and Odom?
Well, yes. After the Rhoades story broke, there was no shortage of inquisitors, and a small pack of reporters followed Odom from interview to interview.
Could the news of Rhoades’ departure not have waited a day?
Before the news, Odom and his players offered strong answers to questions about the team’s expectations. Odom joins Georgia’s Kirby Smart as SEC coaching newbies, with Will Muschamp resurfacing at South Carolina.
New coaches usually get a grace period. Odom said he didn’t want one.
“We’ve got high expectations inside our offices for what we want to do this year,” Odom said. “I look at it like, if you sit there and take a breather and relax, there’s somebody waiting around the corner to knock you out.”
Odom had a good day Wednesday. He spoke confidently but without bluster about a program that’s coming off a disappointing 5-7 season and said he’ll take greater ownership in the athletic department.
“The things that we’ve done in the last eight months are going to set us up for the next 20 years,” Odom said.
They’re not the type of reference points Sankey needs for an introduction, but they were the right words for Missouri on another day in the news cycle.
Mack Rhoades timeline at Missouri
Key events at Missouri during Mack Rhoades’ 15 months on the job in Columbia:
March 9, 2015: Mizzou hires Rhoades away from same job at the University of Houston.
Nov. 7, 2015: Tigers football team announces a boycott ahead of BYU at Arrowhead Stadium.
Nov. 9, 2015: Missouri System President Tim Wolfe and MU Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin resign amid racial unrest.
Nov. 13, 2015: Football coach Gary Pinkel announces plans to retire at season’s end.
Dec. 3, 2015: Rhoades promotes defensive coordinator Barry Odom as Pinkel’s successor.
Jan. 13: Mizzou announces self-imposed sanctions on men’s basketball team amid NCAA investigation.
Jan. 28: Quarterback Maty Mauk dismissed from MU football team.
March 9: MU announces intent to retain men’s basketball coach Kim Anderson.
May 7: Softball team announces protest of investigation into coach Ehren Earleywine’s for alleged verbal abuse of players.
June 11: Baseball coach Tim Jamieson resigns after missing fourth straight NCAA postseason.
July 1: Rhoades introduces ex-Southeast Missouri coach Steve Bieser as new baseball coach.
Wednesday: Rhoades’ tenure at MU ends as he leaves Mizzou for the same job at Baylor.