The worthy candidates for so-called power-five college football coaching jobs are expanding and contracting all at once because of the dizzying carousel of prime jobs available. The anxiety-inducing timetable also is skewed by such complications as potential prospects still having games to coach.
But Missouri athletic director Mack Rhoades and his unnamed search committee have narrowed their focus to a handful of reciprocally interested nominees.
And Rhoades figures to make a decision in the next few days from a list that can be presumed only to include MU defensive coordinator Barry Odom, who interviewed in Memphis on Tuesday.
The rest of the group remains uncertain, however, despite Rhoades’ known partiality for Houston coach Tom Herman, whom Rhoades hired there, and multiple media outlets reporting Temple coach Matt Rhule met with MU on Sunday in Philadelphia.
Illustrating the shadowy and seemingly fluid appearance of the search, Yahoo Sports reported Tuesday that Rhoades had been in Denver for a few days and was “believed to have interviewed” Air Force coach Troy Calhoun, Colorado State coach Mike Bobo and Utah State coach Matt Wells.
Per Yahoo, Rhoades also was expected to interview another candidate today: Cal coach Sonny Dykes.
So, yes, even as the scope has tightened the search could be susceptible to flux.
Other offers likely are or will be in play for all finalists, for instance. And the dynamic could tilt instantly if someone with the clout and appeal of, say, ousted Georgia coach Mark Richt demonstrates more than passing interest.
So Rhoades has an infinite number of considerations to make in his first hire at MU, where he officially began working on April 27 … just weeks before Pinkel told him he had been diagnosed with cancer but intended to keep coaching as long as his energy allowed it.
But one question is the most obvious and fundamental in replacing Pinkel, who announced his illness and decision to retire last month.
Does Rhoades, who is open to input but will make the decision himself, believe in the case for continuity after all that Pinkel achieved in reviving a staggering program?
If so, the decision could be made now … and seemingly would have been by now.
Because here sits Odom, 38, a 1999 MU graduate and renowned recruiter who served on Pinkel’s staff in numerous capacities from 2003-11.
He then spent three seasons as Memphis’ defensive coordinator, and in the same capacity last season at Missouri coaxed the Tigers’ defense into one of the best in the nation.
His resume, though, has a notable void.
Odom has not been a head coach, and it’s rare that someone succeeds as a head coach when his first foray is at this level.
As polished as Odom is, as likely as he is to have a fine head-coaching career ahead of him, it’s hard to believe Rhoades will see that as the most prudent move for the program right now.
He has, in fact, made statements that seem to make Odom’s case uphill, noting he wants a CEO-type for the job (implying one who’s done the job before) and talking about elevating the program to another level than the one this regime achieved.
Meanwhile, consciously or subconsciously, Rhoades surely wants to put his own imprint on the program.
And he should.
Maybe that will mean Odom.
Most likely it means a fresh start.
Wherever this search might lead, getting the answer right to what Rhoades calls “a journey” is a duty that trumps sentimentality, not to mention a duty that someday will go a long way towards dictating Rhoades’ own legacy at MU.
There is no textbook for this, of course, and believe Rhoades was candid when he said gut feeling will weigh heavily.
Moreover, history doesn’t exactly provide answers. The last two times MU athletics has come to a similar crossroads, how to succeed an icon, it took different approaches.
Neither could be said to have quite worked out.
When Dan Devine left for Green Bay after going 5-6 in 1970, the genial Al Onofrio, the architect of consistently terrific defenses, was promoted from defensive coordinator.
Onofrio went 1-10 his first season, partly because he didn’t inherit much depth and partly because perhaps he was out of his depth in the top job.
With a record of 38-41 that included some spectacular upsets and a tenure that produced some great recruits for successor Warren Powers, Onofrio then became the first of five straight MU coaches to be fired until Pinkel arrived.
When legendary men’s basketball coach Norm Stewart retired after the 1999 season, athletic director Mike Alden opted for the opposite approach:
He snubbed heir apparent Kim Anderson for the anti-Norm, Quin Snyder, young and slick and the leader of a corrupt and chaotic time for MU basketball. That begot more instability, albeit amid some highlight seasons, and two years ago MU finally turned to Anderson to try to stabilize it.
So if there are lessons in the difference approaches, they conflict.
But the overriding one is that there is nothing automatic to be assumed about continuity, especially coming off a 5-7 season.
Now, there are notable exceptions, such as Kansas State’s Bill Snyder, Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops and … Richt, who was a longtime assistant at Florida State when he interviewed for the Georgia and Missouri jobs after the 2000 season.
“I think Missouri found their man in Gary Pinkel,” Richt said at Southeastern Conference media days in 2012. “It wasn’t a decision that I turned down Missouri. It was a decision that Missouri believed Coach Pinkel was the best man for the job.
“Obviously, they were correct.”
They would be just as correct to go hard now after the instant credibility and substance of Richt, 55, who went 145-51 at Georgia, where he is expected to coach the Bulldogs through their bowl game.
He said Monday on his weekly coaches’ show that he already had heard from about five schools. One was MU, according to PowerMizzou.com, which also indicated it was unknown if Richt was receptive.
Among many options Richt figures to have is Miami, his alma mater, and after spending much of his career in the true southeast it would seem he’d lean that direction most.
As for how MU is leaning, expect to know soon … even if the accordion file of candidates still could open and close some.