Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
COLUMBIA — When Barry Odom came to Missouri in 1996, it was as a tailback. At least, until head coach Larry Smith called him into his office after the first practice of the season.
“I was a little bit in awe,” Odom said Friday. “(As) a freshman, Day 1, of going into his office.”
It took a minute for Smith to remember which 18-year-old freshman he had asked to see him.
“You’re not a tailback,” Smith told him.
“OK. Yes, sir,” Odom replied.
“You’re a linebacker. You OK with that?”
“Out the door.”
Now, not even two decades later, the name on the door is Odom’s. The 39-year-old defensive coordinator was introduced as Missouri football’s 32nd head coach Friday.
“My vision, without question, will be championships in all walks of life,” Odom said at his introductory press conference at Mizzou Arena. “And I’m not afraid to say that out loud. That’s the standard, that’s what we want, that’s what we’re going to work for every day.”
Director of athletics Mack Rhoades introduced Odom, saying the program “targeted” five coaches but Odom emerged as the best.
“It’s the football acumen,” Rhoades said. “It’s just the fire in his belly. Barry’s going to find a way to win and he’s going to find a way to be successful in everything he does.”
Odom follows in the footsteps of Gary Pinkel, the program’s all-time winningest coach. Pinkel resigned after the 2015 season because of a non-Hodgkin lymphoma diagnosis he received in May.
“Coach Odom has very, very big shoes to fill,” interim chancellor Hank Foley said. “If we look around at some of the former coaches that are on our list, our roster of coaches here, they’re amazing — not the least of which is our most recent former coach.
“But I also couldn’t help but notice that coach Odom has really big feet. So I think he’ll be able to fill those shoes.”
Less than a year ago, Odom was coaching Memphis’ defense in the Miami Beach Bowl against BYU. In the 12 months since, he was hired as Missouri’s defensive coordinator, Pinkel was diagnosed with cancer, Pinkel announced he would step down, and Odom was named his successor.
“When coach (Pinkel) and I talked in late December last year, that never came up,” said Odom, who was also introduced at Friday night’s men’s basketball game. “I expressed to him my career aspirations of being a coordinator and at some point, when the time was right — whether it’s this year or in 15 years, having an opportunity to interview and become a head coach.”
Besides tailback and linebacker, Odom’s various titles at Missouri have included administrative graduate assistant, director of football recruiting, director of football operations, assistant athletics director, safeties coach, linebackers coach and defensive coordinator.
He has also been the head coach at Columbia’s Rock Bridge High School and an assistant coach at Ada High School, his alma mater in Oklahoma.
Rhoades said Odom’s lack of collegiate head-coaching experience wasn’t a factor in the search.
“I don’t care if they’ve been here 15 years, one year, West Coast, East Coast, but getting the best candidate and then the best fit, that’s really the only thing that I focused on,” he said.
Odom’s experience has primarily been on the defensive side of the ball, leaving many to question the future of a Missouri offense that ranked among the worst in the nation in 2015. Odom said he expects his experience preparing against offenses will translate to helping him run one.
“I’ve got ideas and philosophies on what I want to see building an offense moving forward,” he said. “At the end of the day, you’ve got to score points, you’ve got to have great play out of your quarterback, but it’s all got to fit together.”
Rhoades expects to see a varied offensive attack.
“I think there will be times that we play fast tempo, uptempo, we’ll have four wide receivers. There will be times where we’ve got two tight ends and the quarterback’s under center,” Rhoades said. “I think he’ll do a great job of taking early on our strengths … and then eventually recruit to where he has a preferred system.”
As for defense, Odom said he does plan to hire a new coordinator, though he will still have his hands on the defense as well. He said he began meeting with members of Pinkel’s staff Friday and will continue the next few days. Rhoades said it will be Odom’s call as to who his assistants are.
Though hiring a head coach from within the program gives Missouri some continuity, Rhoades said he doesn’t expect a retread of the last 15 seasons.
“I didn’t hire Barry Odom to be coach Pinkel,” Rhoades said. “Coach Pinkel was great and he has been great for 15 years. I hired coach Barry Odom to be coach Odom. He’ll build upon that great foundation, but he’ll have his own ideas and manage the program his way, and I’m excited about that.”
Here are more reactions to Odom’s hire:
• Pinkel: “When I left Don James to work at Toledo, I tried to be like Don James the first year or two, and I figured out after that that I’ve got to be Gary Pinkel within the system that we had … and I think that’s the same thing for Barry. He’s got to be Barry Odom. But we’ve kind of indirectly talked about that, and he knows that. … He’s going to do a tremendous job. I could not be more excited than I am right now for the future of Missouri football.”
• Former Missouri director of athletics Mike Alden: “What I took away from (working with Odom) was he is an amazing, conscientious person. He is tremendously organized and disciplined. He has an intensity that is a positive intensity. Sometimes when people talk about, ‘Oh, that person’s really intense,’ it’s almost like a turn-off. … He’s not like that. He has an intensity that’s really well-received, and then what I took away from all of that is his integrity. I’m just telling you, his values and his integrity — I mean, he’s got it going on.”
• Missouri men’s basketball coach Kim Anderson: “I know what a special day it is for him being a former student-athlete here and then being a head coach. I know the tremendous emotions and feelings that he’s having today. I’m happy for him and Tia and the rest of his family and look forward to working with him. … The one thing I think I would tell him is don’t be afraid to say no when people approach you and want you to do things. Your No. 1 responsibility is the student-athlete, and I think that would be my one piece of advice. Make sure you’re not afraid to say no, because you know what I learned (is) you can’t do everything. You can’t please every person that wants you to come speak or appear or whatever.”