Last week was an eventful one for Missouri. On Tuesday, the NCAA announced it was upholding its entire ruling against Missouri, meaning just three days before the Tigers would play their last opportunity to make a bowl, they found out they were indeed not bowl eligible. On Black Friday, Missouri churned out a 24-14 win over Arkansas in Little Rock to finish the season at 6-6. The next morning, Missouri athletic director Jim Sterk announced he had fired head coach Barry Odom.
Odom went 25-25 in his four seasons at Missouri, and 13-19 in SEC play. He struggled to beat teams that finished the season with a winning record. This season began with a lot of excitement, but brutal losses as a big favorite against Wyoming, Vanderbilt and Kentucky crushed that momentum, as did a tough loss as a home favorite to Tennessee. Odom topped out at 8 wins in 2018.
In his official statement, Sterk cited the program beginning the season with momentum, and the new south end zone complex opening, but the team lost that momentum during the second half of the season. Translation, people poured money into the program and didn’t see enough results.
It may seem strange that Missouri is firing a coach who went 6-6, but not all 6-6 seasons are the same. This was a maybe once-in-a-decade schedule opportunity, with the Tigers getting about the most favorable SEC schedule they could hope for, and yet they still went 3-5 in conference play. People noted how Odom’s win total through four seasons compared with other Missouri coaches, but teams play more games now, and more cupcake games in nonconference play.
Odom did get to go out with a win, as Missouri won the hulking Battle Line Rivalry trophy for the fourth year in a row. Freshman quarterback Connor Bazelak got his first start with Kelly Bryant out with injury, providing a glimpse of the future. When Bazelak got hurt, sophomore Taylor Powell filled in nicely. Arkansas (2-10) showed some pride and fight, leading 14-10 in the third quarter, but the Tigers had a nice 84-yard drive to retake the lead, and then Arkansas transfer Jonathan Nance had a tremendous touchdown catch for the Tigers to pretty much wrap up the win.
Now the key question is, who will the Tigers get? Mike Norvell at Memphis and Bryan Harsin at Boise State both would be a home run. Florida Atlantic’s Lane Kiffin would also be a splashy hire that would get people excited.
Sterk needs a hire that will get people excited and sell tickets. Missouri needs more revenue from football, and that was before the bowl ban was upheld, which means the athletic department misses out on millions from the conference bowl payout. With scholarship and recruiting penalties as well, last week’s NCAA ruling against the Tigers was a bitter disappointment for Mizzou’s administration and team.
All football coaching hires are important, but as Missouri gets further and further from its last season winning 9 or more games, it feels especially pressing to get the right coach hired.