Approaching from the east on Highway 19, the Maysville Grain & Fertilizer Company is the skyline that says you’re arriving in the hometown that forged Barry Odom.
Back in the day, the complex was Walden Seed and Feed, a name that evokes a reminder of some inspiration for Odom’s journey forward.
Growing up in this town of just over 1,200 people in just under 2 square miles fewer than 35 miles from Norman, Odom was smitten with University of Oklahoma football. Courtesy of family season tickets (“Section 19,” he rattles off, “row about-30”), one of his fondest memories is shagging pre-game kicks in the stands at Owen Field.
Odom attended camps and spring practices and shaved stripes in his hair like OU linebacker Brian Bosworth and sprinted downhill from that crazy crown in the middle of the field. He felt as fast as the wind, which he sort of was as a future two-time state champion in the 400-meter run.
Then there was the time in his early teens when he met larger-than-life Sooners coach Barry Switzer. Wearing his cap from the aforementioned Walden Co., Odom said, “Coach Switzer, do you know my name?”
Switzer looked at Odom, observed his hat and said, “I don’t know – Walden?”
“ ‘No! It’s Barry!’ ” Odom replied. “I couldn’t believe he didn’t know my name.”
As he walked on the Maysville football field on a steamy summer day, Odom laughed at himself over the moment. Even so, wanting “to be Barry Switzer” was part of what made him love football and want to go to college and, ultimately, coach.
But it’s only a colorful morsel of what led Odom to a gritty playing career at Missouri and on to become MU’s head coach, only a sliver of what shaped and drives him as he enters a pivotal third season signaled just ahead with Southeastern Conference media days this week.
Find a way
Of all the values Odom was brought up to embrace, of all his innate traits, nothing sits as squarely at their intersection as this mantra: “Find a way to make it work.”
It was what he was taught as a never-surrender rule to live by. It was what he saw through hardships. And it’s just who Odom is.
“I can because I think I can,” his school teacher mother, Cheryl, wrote on a note she stuck on the inside of the door to a bedroom he shared. It took.
His father, Bob, demonstrated that resolute code repeatedly by adjusting to new work in the fickle economy. It permeated.
“Find a way” also flowed within Odom -- and has underscored his first two years at the helm of Mizzou.
He managed to keep his reeling first team together enough to win two of its last three when it could have come unhinged. And after a distressing 1-5 start in 2017, MU won six in a row. That one way or another coincided with a reset after Odom set ablaze game plans, scouting reports, social media posts and news clippings in a speech to his team.
What it all means going forward can’t be known, of course, even with a loaded offense led by pre-season Heisman Trophy candidate Drew Lock.
But it does mean you can count on resilience and resourcefulness from Odom, a much-decorated high school athlete despite a torn ACL through much of it (and, in the end, six knee surgeries) and someone who remains true to roots that might have snagged him as fortunes turned here.
For a glimpse of the challenges in how things changed during his childhood, Odom points out a solitary oil derrick churning away – a contrast to too many that weren’t for too long.
“If it’s still producing oil, then it’s pumping. If it’s not, it’s static,” said Odom, who recalled a once-bustling nearby refinery that resembles a ghost-town now.
That fallout is evident along the approach to the Maysville Junior/Senior High School he attended until his senior year, when he transferred to Ada and scored 39 touchdowns for a perennial powerhouse.
Maysville was “a great place to grow up – a great place. But it’s nothing like it used to be,” lamented native Bob Odom, who has taught and coached, toiled on oil pipelines and worked as a landman and rancher. “This area’s just totally dependent on oil and gas work. Every time there’s a slump, people move.”
A downtown that was the stuff of a Norman Rockwell portrait is largely shuttered now, something it pains Barry Odom to see and catalogue:
“That used to be a restaurant, now it’s closed … All of those were open … So the library’s still there … The health clinic just moved; that used to be Grandpa Odom’s variety store -- Dad’s got the sign … That was the Maysville News, got bought out by Pauls Valley – big paper came and bought them out.”
Even as he relished going in his old school for the first time in years, Odom was anguished by photos of a few former classmates who went to prison. The ripples of economic desperation were such, in fact, that it’s possible more of his Maysville male classmates spent time in jail than in four-year colleges.
Odom also wistfully mentioned the close friend who after high school died in a methamphetamine lab explosion.
Out of concern for the family, he preferred not to name him publicly and declined to elaborate on the circumstance. Instead, he perhaps said it all with a sorrowful shake of the head.
Moments later as Odom finished a tour with The Star and his bright and engaging sons, J.T. and Garyt, superintendent Shelly Hildebrand-Beach and a couple other staff members hurried out to catch him to say hi and get pictures.
“You can’t get off the hook that fast,” one called out. “We don’t get celebs in town that often.”
More seriously, Hildebrand-Beach told Odom, “It’s exciting to see a small-town kiddo do well. We’re proud of you.”
Odom smiled and said, “Well, this made me who I am. And it’s always home.”
The old Odom home is a monument to what made Maysville feel like Mayberry.
Here is the side yard that became a Wiffle ball field for Odom, his older brother Brad and younger brother Brian, now an MU assistant coach.
Over there is the slab of concrete his dad poured for a basketball court, where kids could play day and night with rigged-up lights that surely were up to code.
“Of course,” Odom said, smiling.
Then there was “Odom Field,” the football epicenter. His father fenced off pasture from cattle and mowed in about 70 yards of field, using diesel fuel to kill grass every 5 yards to stripe it properly.
Just past that field were trees that the Odom boys used to … run into to simulate tackling. This evidently was orchestrated by Brad, who played on a 1993 NAIA national championship team at East Central, Okla., and was apt to instigate such things.
But they were rotted trees at least, theoretically hollowed out. Plus, Barry figures, how bad could it have been since they weren’t leading with their heads?
Gazing toward where he used to ride horses and haul hay, Odom is prompted about the day he and friends were fishing and suddenly saw suspicious billows of smoke nearby.
When they ventured over a hill to see what was happening, they observed a man virtually passed out on a bulldozer, overcome with smoke as a brushfire rapidly moved in.
They knew he’d die if they didn’t do something.
So a friend threw water on the man to help him come to. And Odom, about 12 years old, helped carry him to safety.
Odom likely understated the role that got him in the newspaper.
Which is what you’d expect of someone who always just seemed to know the right thing to do and who longtime friend Tyson Brown says is best defined as “humble, humble, humble, humble.”
Something else always defined the Odom boys and Barry in particular.
“Determined,” said Jerry Gamble, as much a family friend as he was Barry’s high school football and track coach.
At the end of kindergarten, his mother recalled, there was an “Olympics of sorts” to be held. Days before, Barry broke out in chicken pox and was crushed by the thought of not competing.
So, still covered in scabs (and apparently no longer contagious), he showed up and competed … and evidently won everything.
It was one thing to see him dominate in that scenario, of course. It was quite another to see what was to come with bigger obstacles and under more duress as he became an accomplished football player and runner whose best time in the 400 was 48 seconds.
It wasn’t just that he was blessed with speed, though. He was possessed of a fiendish work ethic that Gamble witnessed from about the time Odom was 10.
As Gamble mowed the football field encircled by the track, Odom would pull up on his bike and pull out a paper bearing his father’s workout prescription.
Even with no one directly monitoring him, he’d check off each of the exhaustive tasks. Which maybe explains how he made it look easy on the AAU track circuit, from Illinois to Pennsylvania to California.
“Never been anyone I’ve ever seen run a 400 as pretty as him,” Gamble said.
Somehow, he hardly slowed down even after becoming what his father calls “ACL deficient” as a high school freshman. He suffered a tear that would go unrepaired until after his senior year — in part because Barry didn’t let on much about the pain until after his senior year.
Driven to be the best
Odom still treasures the field and track in Maysville, where declining enrollment means they play 8-man football now.
But intent on playing major college football and below the radar there, Odom spent his senior year 45 minutes away in Ada, where a sign he says once touted it as his hometown now hails country music singer Blake Shelton.
When he decided to go to Ada with the help of a family move, Odom wasn’t even sure if he could start for a program that had won the state Class 4A title the year before with three-to-four times as many players as his 30-man squad in Maysville.
But then-Ada coach Larry McBroom almost instantly recognized the same sorts of things Gamble knew about Odom – things that would later lead him to give Odom his first coaching job.
“From the practice field to the weight room to the film room, every single aspect of the program, he was relentless and driven to be the best,” McBroom said. “He made everyone else around him so much better as an incredible example and model.”
In the process, Odom helped boost the team to a second straight state title and raised his own profile.
Alas, not enough to make Oklahoma want him. It didn’t work out at Oklahoma State or Tulsa, either.
But after he ran the 100 in 10.6 in the spring of his senior year, then-Mizzou coach Larry Smith swooped in and offered a scholarship even with a knee to be mended before Odom would play.
As usual, Odom shrugged off whatever was in the way and came through.
Against his inclination, MU converted him to linebacker. Undersized and bum knees and all, he made 362 career tackles as part of teams that ended a 14-year bowl drought to play in two in a row in 1997 and 1998.
He started coaching under McBroom before taking over at Rock Bridge in Columbia at age 24. Then he was back to Mizzou, where he served in various roles from 2003-2011 before a two-year stint as defensive coordinator in Memphis.
That propelled him back to MU in the same role in 2015, when his defense was seventh in the nation in points allowed (16.2 a game) to help deliver him the head job.
As a head coach, his first two defenses have been nothing like that, a curiosity he must shore up if this is going to work out at Mizzou.
If his past is any prologue, though, this small-town kiddo will find a way with some help from the origins that made him who he is.