The day after the University of Missouri’s hideous 35-3 loss to Purdue on Saturday at Memorial Stadium, athletic director Jim Sterk had some words for second-year football coach Barry Odom.
Ones of support and encouragement.
“Because if it goes the other way, then you’re contributing to the lack of success and making more of a problem than what you have,” Sterk said in a phone interview on Wednesday.
Not that Sterk wasn’t distressed by what can only be called a collapse — one that drove much of the announced crowd of just over 50,000 out of the stadium by halftime.
But if he’s entertaining any radical measures, such as a midseason coaching change, he wasn’t sharing that sentiment.
“It’s not even fair to talk about that,” Sterk said.
Yes, it’s Sterk’s job to judge the program, but it’s also his responsibility not to rashly rush to judgment.
And those who think they’ve seen enough of Odom, or even are just really doubting him, might also ask themselves what the actual benefit would be of making a change now.
While calmly calling the uncompetitive loss “really bad” on Wednesday, the broader message Sterk delivered to Odom was similar to what he wants to convey to throngs of disenchanted fans as MU gets ready for a thornier task in the upcoming visit by No. 15 Auburn.
“Football is a good life lesson learned,” he said. “You get hit hard, you’ve got to get up no matter how hard you were hit.”
So the Purdue game has to get flushed “down the toilet,” and Auburn and the eight games after that simply have to be the only points of focus.
“They’ve obviously got to get past it as quickly as possible, otherwise you lose two games because of that — or at least you don’t focus on trying to win the next one,” he said. “And so the hangover can’t last very long, so you’ve got to move on. …
“It was one game.”
It was, but it also was piercing for the sheer hopelessness it suggested a week after a disappointing 31-13 loss to South Carolina would seem to have been incentive enough for the Tigers to bristle.
Instead, Purdue led 28-3 at halftime and MU appeared unmotivated and undisciplined — perhaps best encapsulated in an offensive sequence that featured four straight penalties on Missouri’s offense.
Asked if he was concerned that Odom had lost his team, Sterk said, “No, because I see them in the locker room and in meetings. (But) somehow they lost focus between practices during the week and then the game.”
“Yeah, it’s a challenge,” he added. “I think they’ve got a lot to do. But I think the kids are behind him, and the coaches are together and they’ll develop a good game plan and I expect a heck of a lot better game this Saturday.”
Even if “how?” is a legitimate question.
Toward that end, despite fan frustration he hopes for a better turnout ahead to try to “create an atmosphere that they have an opportunity to win the games that we have at home.”
“We need your help,” he is telling fans, reminding that the average season-ticket base in the Southeastern Conference is 67,000 as MU’s hovers around 37,000.
Understandable as Sterk’s point might be, Odom may have had a more realistic approach when he said after the game that “If we go and win games, then there will be more fans. If we don’t, there won’t.”
Since then, the team held a players-only meeting on Monday, venting and trying to establish a sense of urgency that for one reason or another was glaringly lacking against Purdue.
Even if Sterk wouldn’t put it this way, there certainly is a sense of urgency in Odom’s job security.
Especially considering Sterk’s record-breaking fund raising, the attendance matter and the worrisome proposition that the more MU sputters the longer this could take to fix given the treacherous competition in the SEC.
As he considered the “hot seat” matter, Sterk recalled recently reading that 12 of 14 SEC coaches were on one.
“That’s the reality of where things are, the reality of the writer,” he said, adding with a laugh, “If I take a poll, probably 14 of 14 (athletic directors) are on the hot seat.”
The second-year AD’s job, of course, is attached to Odom’s job, and he didn’t expect MU to be 1-2.
But Sterk is not inclined to meddle, saying “I coached and played enough that I don’t know what went wrong and couldn’t even begin to tell them what they should do. That’s not my job.
“My job is to be there and make sure they’ve moved on to the next game.”
Because supportive or not now, any continued faith in Odom has to hinge on vast improvement from the Purdue game.
“We can’t make that a regular occurrence,” Sterk said. “The team and coaches collectively have to solve why that occurred and make sure that doesn’t happen again.”