Campus Corner

Ask Tod: Football season is ramping up, Mizzou still faces A.D. questions

Missouri football coach Barry Odom
Missouri football coach Barry Odom AP

Apparently, Missouri has some questions swirling around the athletic department. Its fans have questions too — and I’m in a position to answer those.

Without further ado, here’s the first #AskTod of the 2016-17 season:

John, it won’t be me — though I’m open to a conversation.

Jeff, it won’t be Mike Alden or Mack Rhoades either.

To me, this is the most fascinating part of the A.D. search right now. Last week, if I had to guess, I would’ve said after the first of the year. Now that deputy/interim athletic director Wren Baker is gone, I just don’t know. With Baker in place, the urgency didn’t seem great to expedite a hire, but that equation obviously has changed.

The order of operations will be interesting, and I get into some in the article linked above, but the A.D. search is complicated by the need to find a new University of Missouri System president and to hire a chancellor for the MU campus in Columbia.

One school of thought says you absolutely have to wait until the other positions are filled. First, to attract a quality candidate from outside, he or she has to know who their boss is going to be. Mizzou might risk limiting its candidate pool by pushing forward right now. Second, the new president is probably going to want to have some say in who the chancellor is; the chancellor, in turn, probably wants some say in who the A.D. is. We’re talking about a nearly $100 million piece of a multi-billion educational enterprise and, given the turmoil in recent years at Mizzou, there’s some urgency to get these hires right and restore/repair the university’s image.

The flip side is that the Tigers’ coaching staff also needs a sense of security. Every coach’s greatest fear is getting fired and the uncertainty of the leadership situation at MU might make even veteran coaches — like wrestling’s Brian Smith, women’s soccer’s Bryan Blitz and volleyball’s Wayne and Susan Kreklow — nervous. Those coaches are institutions and tremendous assets for the university. Of course, as long as the Sarah Reesmans, Bryan Maggards and Tim Hickmans of Mizzou’s world remain, there’s enough stability that this probably doesn’t become an overriding concern.

Bottom line: Unless Joe Castiglione expresses a desire to return from Oklahoma or Whit Babcock wants to return from Virginia Tech — somebody who’s such a slam-dunk candidate that it rises to the level of absolute no-brainer — it’s probably not going to be a quick hire. That’s true even for Jon Sundvold and a handful of other candidates whose names are on the tips of the tongues of Mizzou fans right now.

Once a president is in place, which might happen by October, things might pick up steam, especially if it becomes clear interim MU chancellor Hank Foley is in line for the job on a permanent basis. Otherwise, it might be February until Mizzou athletics has a new leader in place.

Zach, the minimum expectation should be 6-6 and a bowl game — and, yes, that would be OK for year one of Odom’s tenure. It would also be terrifically disappointing, not only for fans but for Odom as well. He believes the program should aim much higher than that, but it’s hard to make a case for nine or 10 wins given the schedule — at West Virginia, at LSU, at Florida and at Tennessee — this season.

During SEC Media Days, I voted Missouri fourth in the SEC East in the preseason poll. That coupled with seven or eight wins plus a bowl victory would be a great launching point for Odom’s tenure, especially if quarterback Drew Lock emerges as a star and the defense continues its dominant form.

John, what’s the range here? Fired by a new athletic director after a 2-10 debut season* to the town of Columbia being renamed Odomville in 2050**? I’d lean toward the latter on that spectrum, but legacy talk is premature. Let him beat somebody first.

* Won’t happen — the 2-10 record or being fired after one season given his support among fans and donors.

** Won’t happen either, because, frankly, that’s a terrible name for a town, but I could probably get behind Odomtown or Barrytown.

Odom played at Missouri, coached for the Tigers during a prosperous time in the program’s history and is poised to be a steadying force/rallying figure for a school in flux (and that desperately needs good things to cheer about). With some on-field success, the potential is unlimited.

Odom is a sharp guy, a tremendous defensive mind and he’s passionate about his job. He has said Mizzou is his dream job and I believe him, so I don’t think he’ll get a wandering eye if he builds off the foundation left by his predecessor, Gary Pinkel. Considering that Odom turns 40 in November, it’s possible he’ll spend the next 25 years as the Tigers’ coach and go down as the best in program history, especially if he can win so much as a conference title or two along the way.

But there are no guarantees in sports. The man who hired him already is gone and Pinkel raised the program’s expectations high enough that Odom’s talk about the Tigers winning — or at the very least, regularly competing for — titles can’t be hollow.

Lou, I’m told it’s currently 81-82 percent, which is in line with expectations. Mizzou hopes to creep into the 85-percent range before Sept. 10, which would match the 2013 season-ticket renewal rate after a 5-7 debut in the Southeastern Conference.

Jason, after shedding weight as he recovered from the car crash, Brantley is back up to 270 pounds. That’s a 70-pound gain from when he left the hospital last summer. He was listed at 280 pounds on the Tigers’ roster at the time, so that’s encouraging. Now, it’s still a work in progress to get him back into playing shape, but Brantley finished the spring semester strong academically and is working hard to get back on the field as a senior. Will he be the disruptive force he was two seasons ago? Everyone who knows the kid is rooting for that.

Carrington, it’s hard to know for sure, because I know nothing about the teams Mizzou will be facing. Coach Kim Anderson admitted Tuesday that he doesn’t really either. The Italy trip is mostly about bonding, getting a jumpstart on the season with extra practices and experimenting with lineups (and sets). That makes it hard to judge by results.

For instance, Anderson might want to see how effectively certain guys communicate with one another in a zone. If he does that against the Kosovo national team, but they run the Grinnell offense, the defensive stats could look nightmarish. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t a useful exhibition.

As for something concrete, the Tigers clearly need scoring help and the best-positioned guy to come in and give the squad a big boost is probably Frankie Hughes. It would be a very encouraging if Hughes flexes a bit and shows he’s ready to help shoulder that load.

Kevin, give me the over. Missouri’s going to be better and, quite frankly, 14-plus wins isn’t asking all that much. Eight non-conference wins seems realistic, which would require only a 6-12 record in the Southeastern Conference. That seems like a bare-minimum expectation for the Tigers this season. Will that be enough to save third-year coach Kim Anderson’s job …

Luke, he’ll absolutely be the coach in January, but his job security for November 2017 hinges greatly on who the new athletic director is. For starters, the bare minimum as described above probably won’t be good enough. There’s enough fan unrest and enough empty seats at Mizzou Arena to justify making a move, especially if Mizzou doesn’t goes .500 or better next season. That said, a 14-win season that includes a few impressive wins and no 30-point blowouts, in which the Tigers are in every game and finish a few possessions from an 18-win season, might buy Anderson another season. He’s well-liked on campus, because he’s such a good guy.

Still, it’s about progress. Throw out 2014-15. It just doesn’t/shouldn’t count against Anderson. Last year, of course, was still largely a mess and now the staff and players are entirely his guys. It’s sink-or-swim time, so another meandering 10-win season dotted without lopsided, uncompetitive games would be problematic for anyone taking the Mizzou athletic department’s reins. But somebody like Jon Sundvold, who has a personal relationship with Anderson and deeply understands the challenges he faced upon inheriting the program, might be more forgiving than someone hired from the outside.

Personally, I think the Tigers will be better, but it’s a young bunch without tremendous size. They should take an incremental step forward at the very least, but, if the new A.D. has ties to a coach he thinks can do a better job than Anderson or wants to make a strong impression early in his tenure with a splashy move, baby steps may not cut it. Then again, if the president, chancellor and A.D. search take longer than expected and a new guy isn’t hired until April, the timing for landing a replacement might necessitate standing pat.

Ever? Let’s be honest, one day the Tigers will win the first SEC Championship Game played at the Wilmore-Saban Lunar Sports Complex, which Donald Trump will announce construction of on the Sea of Tranquility in 2031 nearing the end of his fourth term in office. Maybe it will take longer to colonize the moon and bring football there, but Decision 2028 will be all about making the moon great again. I have faith, though I suppose it could take longer. Both will happen someday, but neither of us may be around to see it.

Greg, McRae, who will serve a student assistant for Missouri baseball next season, turned down a scholarship to Kansas for football out of high school to sign with the Royals. He could probably pull a Brandon Weeden and suit up for Odom if he wanted, but he’s burned his baseball eligibility because of the whole professional career.

If Sheldon Richardson’s “old-man football” assertion about the Southeastern Conference is accurate, perhaps there’s a place for McRae, who will be 49 when the Tigers open at West Virginia on Sept. 3.

Tod Palmer: 816-234-4389, @todpalmer

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