Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
COLUMBIA, Mo. — A lot has happened at Missouri since Mike Alden stepped down as director of athletics in April.
Head football coach Gary Pinkel was diagnosed with cancer, the football team went on strike in protest of the university’s handling of racist incidents on campus, and Missouri’s system president and chancellor resigned, as did Pinkel after the season because of his diagnosis.
Last week, current A.D. Mack Rhoades hired Barry Odom as Pinkel’s successor. Despite being in that chair not long ago, Alden didn’t mind watching this search from the sidelines.
“Sometimes you want to be in the fire,” said Alden, who attended Odom’s introductory press conference Friday. “I mean, I’m so used to doing that and crisis management and stuff, so you miss some of those parts. But as far as in total, where I would sit there and go, ‘Oh my gosh, I wish (I was doing that)’? No. I’m good. It’s kind of like, been there done that.”
The future of Missouri football did not appear to be in question when Alden announced he would be stepping down in January. Pinkel, who Alden hired, was entering his 15th season at Missouri coach with the most wins in program history.
Then Pinkel was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in May. He told Alden of his diagnosis, though Pinkel said he didn’t know then that his 15th season would be his last.
Pinkel has spoken with Rhoades about staying involved with the athletic department, putting him at a crossroads familiar to Alden, who is currently transitioning into a faculty role at the university.
“They’re really visible positions, so the question is, first of all, what’s it going to be like when you’re not The Guy?” Alden said. “How do you deal with that? It hits your ego. … How is it different when you aren’t on 24-7? And in these roles, in football or athletically, you’re on 24-7. What’s it going to be like? What’s it like when you don’t wake up at 2 o’clock in the morning and you’re worried about (work) or you get the phone call at 3 o’clock in the morning?”
Alden said he and Pinkel spoke for more than an hour Thursday at Lakota Coffee Company, discussing the transition Pinkel is just now beginning.
“In my opinion, you’ve got to wean yourself off of” a high-profile position, Alden said. “Some people think it can happen overnight. Well, not for me it didn’t, it hasn’t. It’s taken me, and I’m much better today than I was last week, and I’m much better than I was the week before, but it takes time that you have to start recognizing that maybe you aren’t going to be recognized as much.
“Maybe the phone doesn’t ring anymore like it was before. You don’t have to worry about the budget as much as you did before. You’re not getting ready for that football game like it was. It’s OK on a Saturday morning to be able to get a workout in, read the paper, something like that. ‘Oh, the game starts in an hour?’ None of us are used to that.”
Of course, there is now Odom at the opposite end of the spectrum. Odom, then a linebacker, and quarterback Corby Jones were the first two football players Alden met at Missouri before he took over as director of athletics. Odom worked with Alden in his various roles in the athletic department, including as an intern.
“I thought as a 20-, 21-year old guy when I first met him, I was really impressed and just knew that he’ll continue to grow,” Alden said.
As an MU graduate, Odom joins basketball coach Kim Anderson — Alden’s last major hire as an A.D. — as “true sons” coaching at their alma mater.
“That’s certainly not something, I think, that ultimately means you’re going to be successful or not,” Alden said. “(But) I think, as they are successful, it’s really a value added, because I think the pride that it can give, not only to the people in the program, but to the alums and people throughout the university, it can be very special.
“But to sort of look at that, I just think it’s a great situation for Mizzou.”