New Missouri defensive coordinator Barry Odom remembers some trepidation when he hopped in the car in December 2011 bound for Memphis and the defensive coordinator job on first-year coach Justin Fuente’s staff.
It was a different feeling as he rumbled back to Columbia three years later after accepting the same job on Gary Pinkel’s staff at his alma mater.
“I was making the drive from Memphis to Columbia at some point in the last month and a half and thought, ‘It’s a lot easier driving from Memphis to Columbia now, knowing what I know, than it was three years ago, driving from Columbia, going to an unknown in Memphis,’” Odom said.
Odom, a 1999 MU graduate and four-year letterman for the Tigers at linebacker, served as an administrative graduate assistant (2003), director of football recruiting (2004-05), director of football operations (2006-08) and eventually safeties coach (2009-11) during nine seasons under Pinkel.
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Odom said Tuesday that he always knew he wanted to be a defensive coordinator (and eventually a head coach), but he passed on a few opportunities before jumping to Memphis, where he could get in on the ground floor with Fuente.
“Was it a chance? Yeah, it probably was a chance, but I don’t typically looks at things that way,” Odom said. “I look at it as ‘I’m going to go make it right.’ It’s an opportunity to put my name on it, put my brand on it.”
During three seasons, Memphis improved from the 105th ranked scoring defense the year before Odom arrived to the No. 11 scoring defense in 2014, allowing 19.5 points per game.
When Dave Steckel left his post as Missouri’s defensive coordinator in mid-December, taking over as Missouri State’s head coach, returning to the Tigers was a no-brainer for Odom.
“If you’re in this business and you have an opportunity to work at your alma mater, that means something,” Odom said. “Without question, it’s an unbelievable opportunity to work on what I think is one of the best staffs in America.”
Odom said he knew by early November “that I was probably going to be in a position to have opportunities to make a decision. Missouri was obviously not in that equation at the time.”
He went through some initial interviews and had other job opportunities, but, when Pinkel called to assess his interest in replacing Steckel, it was an ideal fit — albeit surreal.
“I never would let my mind go there,” Odom said. “I knew that I wanted to go make Memphis the best place it could be and, if we did that and took care of our business, then, if it was the right opportunity, wherever that was going to be, would come up. … Even when I learned that this job was about to come open, I still wouldn’t let myself go there.”
Odom oversaw a 3-4 base defense at Memphis, which he said was necessary based on the team’s personnel and recruiting philosophy.
He won’t completely abandon those schemes, but he also plans to marry that with the established defensive philosophy already entrenched at Missouri.
“We will base out of a 4-3 defense, which is what, recruiting-wise, Mizzou has done over the last three, four, five years …” Odom said. “I’m not coming in to try and reinvent everything. I’m trying to add to what they’ve done and continue to build it.”
Odom said that, by last season, Memphis probably played 20-25 percent of its snaps with a four-man front anyway and he hopes to deploy a defense with enough versatility to throw different looks at opposing offenses as needed.
No matter what the scheme, Odom has one primary goal.
“I want to be a good defensive football team,” he said. “I want to be a great defensive football team. I’m more into, at this point, fine-tuning our skill sets and building our defense around the athletic ability that we have.”
Odom, whose recruiting territory hasn’t been carved out yet, said dropping into some Citrus Bowl practices after he was hired gave him a good idea of what he will be working with next season.
Those evaluations have continued as he’s watched more film and watched the players in MU’s Winning Edge offseason training program.
“I’ve tried to enter with an open mind with every person at every position,” Odom said.
He also will assume Steckel’s role as linebackers coach.