Before he was a University of Missouri ambassador buzzing around the grounds surrounding Memorial Stadium meeting and greeting in a golf cart on Saturday evening, Gary Pinkel spent 15 years on the sideline within, largely revealing the same range of motion and scope of animation as the statue of him they’ll build here one day.
Accented by crossed arms, the isolated stoicism perhaps was best symbolized by the headset he so seldom removed that it might as well have been as affixed as another appendage.
That aura of composure and control was at the core of his remarkable time at MU, where in late 2000 he inherited a program that had had two winning seasons since 1983 and revived it to 118 victories and winning or sharing five division championships in the Big 12 and SEC.
The contrast in style was pronounced in the home debut of Pinkel’s successor, Barry Odom, on Saturday in MU’s 61-21 mulching of Eastern Michigan.
Albeit against a program mired in futility, the Tigers scored more points than they did (56) in their final seven games combined in 2015.
As he presided over program with an offense that plays faster and, in fact, runs faster than the one stranded in quicksand much of last year, Odom was a perpetual motion machine — logging more steps in the first few minutes of the game than Pinkel normally aggregated in 60 minutes.
He prowled from 25-yard-line to 25-yard-line, frequently approaching and encouraging players on both sides of the ball.
He took off his headset so often to speak directly with assistants or players or officials that you wondered if he’ll have carpal tunnel from the repetitive motion.
And when it was over, Odom was among his players as they headed over to the student section to celebrate — evoking a chanting serenade of “Barry, Barry, Barry” from fans.
So while there is a certain continuity in Odom taking over in the wake of Pinkel’s retirement after last season, there also is a distinctly new vibe as he seeks to instantly energize it out of the doldrums of a 5-7 2015 season ... lest another step back leads to a rapid downward spiral, and ensuing grappling with gravity, in the thorny SEC.
In one sense, his sideline demeanor is just a cosmetic, symbolic point.
In another, though, it also speaks to the vitality injected by the 40-year-old who is 24 years younger than the man he replaces and respects so much but intends to distinguish himself from, too.
That’s why Odom overhauled a staff that mostly had been together since Pinkel’s arrival and why he’s revamped systems and terminology and why he is setting about simply being himself instead of trying to merely emulate Pinkel.
As for being able to duplicate his success?
Just how far MU has to go to be back in the thick of the SEC East that it won in 2013 and 2014 is entirely unclear as the Tigers now prepare for their conference opener next week against visiting Georgia.
The Bulldogs are a rickety 2-0 after a narrow win, 26-24, over FBS foe Nicholls, which likely is a lesser adversary than an Eastern Michigan program that is now 4-22 in three seasons under Chris Creighton.
Of course, given the inherent intensity enhancement that will come with conference play, that game probably says no more about how Georgia will play here than what MU’s game against the Eagles says about how the Tigers will play against the Bulldogs.
Still, this was the game on the schedule for MU.
And a week after the cold-water dousing of optimism that came with the 26-11 loss at West Virginia, there was a lot to like.
At least if you figure that the point-after-touchdown fiascos will lead to the Tigers going for two all the time now.
And especially if you wanted to rationalize that Eastern Michigan’s two third-quarter touchdowns and MU yielding more than 400 yards and generating just one sack said more about a lapse in focus that comes with a whopping lead than it did about what appears to be some defensive vulnerability.
Nothing seemed more promising than the play of quarterback Drew Lock, the sophomore from Lee’s Summit who flexed his abundant potential in a way he never had before at the collegiate level.
Lock tied an MU record with five touchdown passes, and his 450 passing yards was the third-most prolific single-game performance in school history behind Jeff Handy’s 480 in 1992 and Blaine Gabbert’s 468 in 2009.
Because of the porous opposition, it’s hard to necessarily call this a coming-of-age moment for Lock, who threw four touchdown passes all last season.
But it’s easy to say that it’s another step toward maturity and traction toward becoming who he can be.
And you could say the same for the program under Odom, a work in progress with no way yet to gauge quite where it is or how far it has to go ... but one you can at least figure is more apt to stay on the move than stand still.