Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
COLUMBIA, Mo. — Recruiting as a geographic outlier in the college football’s top recruiting conference presents enough challenges as it is. But the Missouri football team had to account for another challenge when recruiting its 2016 class: the departure of Gary Pinkel, the program’s all-time winningest coach.
Pinkel announced his resignation Nov. 13 and Barry Odom was announced as his replacement Dec. 3, leaving a nearly month-long “limbo period,” as safeties coach Ryan Walters put it.
“You don’t know who the head coach is going to be. You don’t know which coaches are going to be here. It’s hard,” Walters said Wednesday at Missouri’s National Signing Day event. “Honestly, it’s hard to try to keep a recruit or try to gain a recruit during that timeframe.”
Even for long-established coaches like Cornell Ford and Andy Hill, who recruit the state’s two biggest cities, nothing was certain.
“I’d like to think that I was going to be still around, but you didn’t know,” Ford said. “I didn’t know. Barry Odom didn’t know he was going to be the guy. So until something was said, you keep trying to do your job, keep trying to recruit until somebody tells you something otherwise, and I just went about my job as I normally did.”
Ford, Hill and Walters were the three Pinkel assistants to join Odom’s staff, and for Ford and Hill especially, they played an important role in recruiting.
“Those guys have been tremendous teachers of student-athletes,” Odom said. “They’ve been great coaches. They’ve been great mentors and then obviously Cornell (has recruited) St. Louis for 15 years, Andy Hill in Kansas City for even longer than that. Those guys held a lot of the remaining class together — even (if) they weren’t Kansas City, St. Louis kids — they were able to hold the Mizzou brand together.”
As for the new guys, once signed, they had to hit the ground running.
“Full speed,” defensive coordinator DeMontie Cross said. “Yeah, I got here, signed my paperwork, and then I was back out on the road recruiting before you knew it.”
Odom said Cross and his offensive counterpart Josh Heupel had to study the current roster to create a plan going forward and then targeted recruits that fit that plan.
On offense, one of those needs proved to be quarterback, and Heupel went out and flipped Boise State commit Micah Wilson. Heupel said he enjoyed working with a coach that gave him the freedom to go out and find the quarterback of his choosing.
“It’s nice that you work with a guy that’s competitive, that’s driven, is hungry and at the same time is going to give you the opportunity to go out and do your job,” Heupel said. “It’s been a lot of fun being on the road with (Odom) recruiting. He’s got a tremendous amount of energy. He’s extremely tough … but he’s a natural magnet for players as well. That’s why he’s extremely successful as a recruiter.”
In a sense, the class still has Pinkel’s fingerprints all over it. After all, the 15-year Missouri coach headed the first part of the recruiting season, his success at Missouri is one of the Tigers’ greatest selling points.
Still, Odom is an apple that doesn’t fall too far from Pinkel’s coaching tree.
“Obviously there’s room for improvement everywhere, but Barry knows exactly what worked (with Pinkel) and exactly what needs to change,” Walters said. “You’ve kind of seen some of that start to happen.”
Some of the change has been geographic. Odom is from Oklahoma, and the Tigers have hired four assistant coaches with Oklahoma roots. Missouri is also looking to expand its recruiting efforts in Texas, something the program had gotten away from since joining the SEC.
“You look at the success that Missouri’s had over a number of years, and if you circle some of the greatest years that we’ve had and some of our best players, they come out of the state of Texas,” Odom said. “We’re going to get back into that area.”
The Tigers’ 2016 class includes two Texas recruits, and a third, Marvin Terry, was expected to sign before being arrested on assault charges. Walters is one of Missouri’s main recruiters in Texas, especially in the Dallas area.
“The University of Missouri has done well with kids from Texas,” he said. “I think the importance of that with being in the SEC, I think we can draw some good talent. It’s a direct flight into Columbia from Dallas. All of that is advantageous to us.”
Hill thinks the new staff’s recruiting identity is not yet fully formed.
“Truthfully, this particular window of recruiting was probably more going through straight kind of what we did before,” he said. “I think once we’re done now and once we get together and put our heads together as a staff, with the experience and where guys have been and what we’ve done, … it’ll be interesting to see kind of what our philosophy will be.
“I think, obviously recruiting the state of Missouri is going to be big no matter what we do. But truthfully, I think guys have such good experiences elsewhere in different places, in the NFL, and this is how you evaluate that. I’ll be curious to see how it turns out.”