The day began like any other Sunday sandwiched into the middle of the football season. Missouri players cycled into the team training complex for a meeting before their first practice of the week.
The ensuing message wasn’t quite so typical. To lead off the forum, head coach Barry Odom told his players that he had fired defensive coordinator DeMontie Cross earlier in the day.
“Caught off guard,” defensive lineman Terry Beckner Jr. said, later adding, “Nobody was looking for that to happen. But sometimes stuff happens out of nowhere. You gotta run with it.”
Odom told reporters Monday that the dismissal had “zero to do with on-the-field performance” and instead came down to “philosophical differences.” He was rigid — and similarly vague — in that stance Tuesday.
Asked if a disconnect between Cross and players was a factor in the firing, Odom replied, “No, we’ve talked about me being faced with decisions on making that work and what’s best for who we are moving forward and what this group needs. That would be something unfair for me to answer.”
Minutes later, cornerback Logan Cheadle attempted to debunk the notion altogether.
“I took the news not so great,” Cheadle said. “You obviously don’t want to see a man lose his job. That’s his livelihood. That’s how he supports his family. Coach Cross is a good guy. He really wanted us to be great. I hate to see him go.
“But it’s what’s best for the program right now, apparently. If coach Odom or whoever’s higher than coach Odom makes that decision, I fully believe in them, and I trust they know what’s best for our program.”
On a sunny weekday in Columbia, Missouri continued the initial process of moving on. The Tigers practiced Tuesday afternoon for just the second time since the change. Odom, who was already calling defensive plays, will add inside linebackers coach to his responsibilities, a job previously assigned to Cross.
“Coach Odom has been involved in the linebacking crew. He just got a little more to it,” linebacker Terez Hall said. “It ain’t really too much changed. He’s just more involved now, replacing coach Cross. That’s all.”
Linebacker Cale Garrett said the changes were not yet readily apparent and described the team’s focus as on Saturday’s home date with Purdue, not the alteration to the coaching staff.
Easier said than done. As is typically the side effect of a in-season change of this significance, there’s an element of distraction. As players and assistant coaches met with the media Tuesday in small group settings, the interviews either started with the topic or quickly shifted to it.
“It’s unfortunate in the middle of the season, but we’re just trying to figure out what works,” senior safety Anthony Sherrils said. “We think about that stuff when we step off the field. But when we’re on the field, we’re just trying to put in the work, just like any other day.”