By the time Barry Odom graduated from Missouri in December 1999, he knew that his career path would involve college athletics.
He didn’t yet know it would be in the coaching ranks.
Hoping for a shot at playing in the NFL, Odom remained in Columbia during the spring semester in 2000, working on a master’s degree and staying connected with the strength and conditioning staff.
He also was approached by a trio of Mizzou administrators about interning with the athletic department.
“The first job that I had for them that spring semester, they gave me a list of donors to call,” Odom said Thursday during a visit to The Star’s downtown office. “They were reseating the Hearnes Arena, depending on your donation level and years of donating. I had the book of the people to call.
“About after the third phone call, I realized that wasn’t the job that I wanted. Those conversations were very difficult, but I knew at that point I wanted to be involved with collegiate athletics.”
Odom’s path from there is fairly well-documented. He started as an assistant football coach in his hometown of Ada, Okla., for one year then returned to Columbia as the head coach at Rock Bridge High for two seasons.
After that, Odom joined former Tigers coach Gary Pinkel’s staff, serving in various capacities from 2003-11, including the last three seasons as safeties coach.
Odom remains particularly grateful for his time as director of operations under Pinkel from 2006-08.
“There were some days, I wondered, ‘Am I going down the right track?’” Odom said. “But I wouldn’t trade that experience now for anything, because coach allowed me to sit with him daily, when I was in the operations role, and make decisions that ran the program.”
Odom took meticulous notes from every meeting he’s ever had with administrators. He compiled checklists and crafted preliminary plans in the hope he’d one day take over his own program.
Reality proved different in some ways after he was hired Dec. 3 as Pinkel’s successor.
“Some of those are spot on, and others I go, ‘What was I thinking?’” Odom said with a smile.
Either way, Pinkel’s influence is undeniable.
Odom still uses the checklist Pinkel created to keep him on track through “the grind” each day. It lays out what to do Monday, Tuesday and so on throughout the week.
Pinkel is also never far away, but he’s allowing Odom to dictate the terms of his counsel right now.
“I see him quite a bit,” Odom said. “He comes by enough during the week. We talk on the phone and we text. He also wants to give me some space, which is awesome and I respect that.”
After every phone call or encounter, Pinkel says the same thing — “Let me know if you need anything” — and Odom respects that, too.
Odom is his own man, and just as Pinkel constantly adjusted his process, Odom regularly mulls options for all manner of program-related minutiae.
He’s also incorporating influences from Larry Smith, Mizzou’s head coach in the late 1990s, and Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente, who was Memphis’ head coach during Odom’s three seasons there as defensive coordinator.
If it’s possible, Odom might be the most meticulously detail-oriented coach in the bunch.
“I want to know exactly what we’re serving in the dining hall that day,” said Odom, who will oversee the Tigers’ special teams. “I want to know from Don Barnes in the equipment room what we’re wearing. With (Tigers head athletic trainer) Rex Sharp and sports medicine, I’ve got to have ideas on what we’re doing there. The academic resource center, we’ve got a daily meeting on what we’re doing.
“I’m trying to be involved in every area, because I want everybody that touches our players to make sure that we’re on the same page and we have a championship vision on doing things right one day at a time.”
With Missouri weighing options for an expanded or rebuilt Mizzou Athletics Training Complex, Odom knows his legacy’s already being crafted.
“I hope I’m at the University of Missouri for the rest of my life, but I also understand that we’ve got to hit it right on this one,” Odom said. “(Missouri athletic director) Mack (Rhoades) has the vision and the ultimate say in where we’re going with it.
“Working together in partnership with him and his team, we understand that it’s got to be something that, for our student-athletes, provides every resource they need to be their best. We’re going to try to hit a home run in every aspect of that.”
Odom wants to keep the general structure — with football sharing a building, in particular a dining hall — but he was adamant that a full-length indoor practice facility must be part of the project.
“We’ve got to have that, and everybody knows that,” Odom said.
He inherited a tough act to follow. Pinkel won the most games as head coach (118) in Tigers history, took the program to 10 bowl games and won five division championships, including SEC East titles in 2013 and 2014.
Building off that legacy is paramount to Odom, whose devotion to Mizzou is limitless.
“The ability that I was awarded to get to come to the University of Missouri and get my school paid for, that really change my life course history,” he said. “I don’t take that lightly. There’s things that happened and have happened in my short life time that I owe the University of Missouri a whole bunch. I’m very honored to represent this state.”
Odom said it the day he was hired and very well may have repeated it every day since: He believes it’s possible to win championships at Missouri.
“I’m going to keep saying that,” he said. “If somebody tells me why we can’t, I’m going to tell them why we can.”
Perhaps that’s what it will take — a championship — to get Odom’s name back on the billboard that welcomes people to Ada.
“They had my name up on a billboard — ‘Welcome to Ada, Home of Barry Odom,’” he said. “They took it down about three years ago, because Blake Shelton is from Ada. He was a year ahead of me in school.”