First-year Missouri coach Barry Odom got a quick lesson this week about being on the hot seat.
Odom dismissed two key defensive linemen, sophomore defensive end Walter Brady and senior defensive tackle Harold Brantley, on Wednesday in one of the less-savory duties a head coach has that a coordinator doesn’t.
“You always want to make the right decision,” Odom said Thursday after Mizzou’s first official practice of the 2016 season. “That wouldn’t be one of the things that are fun on the top of the list (of head coaching duties). … We talk with our staff, we talk with our administration, but ultimately, as the head coach, that’s where it is.”
Brady committed an unspecified violation of team rules and Brantley failed to meet academic expectations set by the team.
Brantley was working his way back from a series of surgeries after a car crash in June 2015, which nearly killed him and cost him his entire junior season, but poor discipline in the classroom caught up with him.
“It was a week-to-week process to get those obligations finished up,” Odom said. “It’s unfortunate, but it’s something that we sat back in January and talked about then again, I believe in April, on what he needed to get done to be academically in good shape.”
Instead, Brantley’s career at Mizzou is done.
Same for Brady, who was chosen as a Freshman All-American last season by several publications. He tied Charles Harris for the team lead with seven sacks last season and ranked second with 12 1/2 tackles for a loss.
“Those guys were emotional leaders in their own right, especially Harold,” first-year defensive coordinator DeMontie Cross said. “(It’s) tough; it’s a lot bigger than just football, too. Those guys both had special roles and you just don’t replace that, but we’ve got to find a way to do it as a group.”
Missouri has yet to issue a depth chart since Odom took the reins, but Cross made it clear that Brady was the unquestioned starter.
Now, Cross said there is no clear heir apparent to start opposite Harris.
“Not after day one, but I brought those guys in,” Cross said. “Walter was the starter, hands down; (he) and Charles were out two starting defensive ends. Now, that spot is open. We’ve got about three or four guys that are going to compete for it.”
Cross mentioned junior Marcell Frazier, sophomore Nate Howard, who is recovering from a knee injury, sophomore Spencer Williams, junior walk-on Jordan Harold and freshman Tre Williams as candidates to soak up reps early in camp.
“We’re going look at all those guys early on in the first couple practices and first couple scrimmages,” Cross said. “The best guy will earn that spot.”
Whoever earns the spot needs to make an impact, too.
“We need to make sure everybody’s not sliding toward Charles,” Cross said. “We need another threat over there, and we’ll make sure somebody will step up.”
Anytime a teammate is dismissed, it’s a blow for those who remain, but Thursday’s news didn’t seem to crush the Tigers’ spirits.
“We love those guys, but we’ve got to get down to the task at hand,” junior strong safety Anthony Sherrils said. “The task at hand is preparing to win games and moving forward into the season. … We feel sorry for those guys, but we respect coach’s decision.”