Vahe Gregorian

Hey, Missouri Tigers fan: Here's why football coach Barry Odom deserves your trust

Barry Odom's command of the job has grown, and he is looking forward to this summer's camp and the Missouri Tigers' 2018 season.
Barry Odom's command of the job has grown, and he is looking forward to this summer's camp and the Missouri Tigers' 2018 season. AP

Among the typical perks of being the head football coach at a Power Five school is enjoying a prime parking place reserved in your name.

But as a matter of respect for other Missouri coaches and, well, others in general, Barry Odom declined to get one.

So here he was the other day, in his black Toyota Sequoia, driving around trying to find a place to pull in.

During his first couple of years on the job, this anecdote might have made for a fine parallel with him seeking to find his niche at MU, where his first team went 4-8 and his second started 1-5 before finding itself and creating some buzz heading into the 2018 season.

Now, though, it just reflects being comfortable in his place.

“Definitely not pretending to say I’ve got it all figured out, and we’ve still got a long ways to go,” Odom said. “But I have a good feeling of where our program is.”

With ample reason.

Highlighted by the return of quarterback Drew Lock and defensive tackle Terry Beckner Jr., MU will have back much of the two-deep roster that won six in a row before getting crunched by Texas in the Texas Bowl.

The $98 million Memorial Stadium south end zone project is well underway, and the Tigers are enjoying recruiting breakthroughs such as the one Odom enjoyed watching publicly commit on streaming video in his office that day, offensive lineman Jack Buford from St. Louis.

The most reassuring development of all, though, is that of Odom, 41.

He has grown into his job through hard times and mistakes that at times seemed like they would get the best of him.

Mizzou football coach Barry Odom landed a huge commitment on June 6, 2018 as St. Louis offensive lineman Jack Buford committed to play for the Missouri Tigers.

Instead of crumpling, he has shown himself to be resolute and resourceful, and skepticism about him should be receding (even if a cynic might cling to the fact that Mizzou didn’t beat any team with a winning record last season).

My own questions have faded, in large measure because of the way he kept his first team honed in after starting 2-7 and found a reset button after the disastrous first weeks of 2018 left many fans calling for his job.

In fact, he earned the benefit of the doubt when he easily would have lost both those teams.

Instead, he cracked the code on keeping them together and in the moment — testament to the ability to connect and motivate that is as crucial as anything in coaching.

Along the way, he has let go of his tendency to micromanage.

“I don’t need to decide what uniform combination we’re going to wear,” he says.

The former celebrated defensive coordinator will attend many defensive meetings but won’t try to run them. And he’s come to recognize that he doesn’t have all the answers and been well-served to become a better listener.

“I’m more competitive now than I’ve ever been, but I’m also at ease with what I need to do,” he said. “I’ve made plenty of mistakes; I’ve made some good decisions, too.

“There’s a better staff harmony now; we’re working really well together. And I think that’s probably from the head chair giving more of a clear vision of ‘this is how we’re going to do it.’ ”

Missouri athletic director Jim Sterk said on May 9, 2018 that he saw growth in coach Barry Odom’s football team last season and believes the Tigers can compete with anyone in 2018.

At times, he acknowledges, the view from that head chair had been “pretty lonely.”

To some degree, it felt that way even when he plopped down in it for the first time shortly after being swarmed by giddy players when he was introduced in December 2015 as the successor to Gary Pinkel.

He remembered sitting down and letting out something between an exhale and a sigh as he considered all that suddenly was before him.

It was one thing to replace a legend, another to take over after the last team went 5-7 and yet another to do so in the immediate aftermath of the racial controversies on campus that included a threatened player boycott.

Reconciling the implications of the latter aspect alone, he said, were of a “magnitude” he can’t begin to describe even now.

So he was thrilled to get the job, yes, but knew the challenge was steep.

And that was before he had any inkling that the man who hired him, then-athletic director Mack Rhoades, would leave before Odom even coached a game.

In that first moment in his office, he thought, “You get one shot at something like this. I’ve got to get this right.”

Even as he realizes MU hasn’t arrived and that his program still needs depth across the board, he’s long past that feeling now, he says.

Because a foundation has been set and he’s “controlling what I can control.”

The discord of 2015, he says, comes up rarely now. When it does, his best way of addressing it is to “spread the word” about how MU has handled it and to get people on campus to see all the school has to offer, and then let people “write their own narratives” about what they see and hear and feel.

He’s also been bolstered by the faith of athletic director Jim Sterk, who the day after Mizzou’s ghastly 35-3 loss to Purdue last September stopped by Odom’s office to lend encouragement and then offered public support.

“He was sincere, you could tell that, and that meant, and still means, a lot to me,” Odom said. “He could see the infrastructure and some things that were going on behind the scenes that hopefully gave him the conviction to do that.”

All of which helps explain what Odom is up to on this day as he prepares for his third season, the sort of stuff he found little time for in his first year.

In an office that features an Xbox to make it a more appealing place for players and a speaker he largely uses to play the favorite music of recruits, Odom is preparing 15-minute life-lesson sessions for his players that he plans to make at the end of every practice day during their upcoming camp.

The plan, he said, is to “pour into their soul” and influence who they’ll be for decades to come.

“I didn’t do it my first year, but I’ve grown up,” he said, smiling.

The idea, he suggested, was to impart to his players the very same lessons he gives his three children.

“Why in the world would I look at it any differently? I’ve got to give them love, I’ve got to hold them accountable in every level in their life to do the right thing, make the right decisions. Because their decisions affect so many people,” he said. “I’m a firm believer that you do those things, and the wins are going to happen.”

So Odom will lead talks about topics including treating women with respect, respecting the cultural differences in society, the relationship between substance abuse and fighting, honesty and individual accountability, fighting complacency, the meaning of urgency and responding to adversity.

He will go over with his players a list he put together of “8 Things Every Man Should Know:”

Like how to be a gentleman — “a firm handshake combined with looking the other person in the eye carries with it respect, dignity and strength” — honoring your parent(s), being a man of integrity and taking responsibility.

Speaking of which …

“I’ve been OK realizing and understanding that I have made some mistakes and not to be so hard-headed on some things,” he said.

All part of steering toward the right spot for himself and his program.