Tag Archives: Barry Odom

Barry Odom Inherited A Mess From Gary Pinkel

Saturday, September 16 was a horrible, no good, very bad day if you’re a Missouri Tigers football fan. There’s not much else that can be said about losing at home to Purdue by a score of 35-3.

Can it get better? I hope so. Will it get better this season? I have my doubts.

My doubts extend all the way back to when Barry Odom was hired. I wasn’t the only one who voiced concern about a successful assistant coach with no college head coaching experience being tapped to lead an SEC program but I was certainly in the minority.

After drubbing its sacrificial FCS opponent, Missouri followed that performance up with a questionable loss to South Carolina and an absolute abomination against Purdue. Those putrid performances against Power 5 teams coupled with the questionable firing of defensive coordinator Demontie Cross have pushed even the staunchest Odom supporters to the brink.

[Merenbloom: Barry Odom And The Missouri Tigers Shouldn’t Be Locked Into Drew Lock]

Over at RockMNation, Bill Connelly brings up a number of relevant points for discussion when he stated that Missouri’s winning culture has vanished; it’s not all Barry Odom’s fault, but it’s on him to fix it. Or else.

Connelly stopped just short of stating who some people consider to be the real problem when he made this passive aggressive statement:

That’s not really this coaching staff’s fault — it inherited what it inherited. Obviously better coaching could lead to more success, which would in turn provide the evidence needed for good player leadership. But this is what happens when a winning culture stops winning. It becomes very difficult for even an experienced coaching staff to get that ship turned back around.

“It inherited what it inherited.” Connelly doesn’t come right out and say it but that’s an indictment of Gary Pinkel. It’s often times said that the mentality of the players is a direct reflection of their coach. So when observing the apparent lack of leadership on this team, we are to some degree being met with the image of Pinkel. And I have to say that this isn’t the first time that I’ve heard Pinkel’s leadership and dare I say character called into question.

Pinkel may be the real problem at Missouri but Connelly is correct about it being on Odom to fix. We see this sort of thing in corporate America all of the time. A CEO retires, moves on to their next opportunity, or is fired and their replacement has the responsibility of making the culture their own. Seasoned leaders have the confidence and experience to be successful in this often times difficult transition. Odom may have the confidence but he’s lacking the experience required for an undertaking like the one at Missouri.

A person doesn’t hire themselves and former AD Mack Rhoades signed off on Odom. And part of the reason that Odom was Rhoades’ choice was that Odom was Pinkel approved. There are times when being the preferred candidate of the retiring coach is a smart choice. This wasn’t one of those times. Rhoades would have wanted a brand new culture if he knew how Pinkel was running his program. And that would have required hiring someone who had no ties to Pinkel. Or, possibly, Rhoades didn’t care. He did high-tail it out of Columbia not long after selecting Odom.

The triumvirate of Odom, Pinkel, and Rhoades is exactly why I believe Jim Sterk will pull the plug on Odom’s tenure as head coach. He won’t clean house in-season because that would be foolish. Sterk gave former Missouri basketball coach Kim Anderson one last season and he’ll do the same for Odom. This will also give Sterk time to identify and fully vet his candidates before making his selection. Sterk played the long-game with Cuonzo Martin’s hiring process and I have no doubt that he’s taking the same approach with Odom’s successor.

There are skeletons in the Odom-Pinkel-Rhoades closet. I’m not the one to out them but I’m confident that Sterk will clean it all up.

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E-mail Seth at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @SethMerenbloom.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Barry Odom And The Missouri Tigers Shouldn’t Be Locked Into Drew Lock

Barry Odom’s first 14 games as head coach of the Missouri Tigers have been turbulent. His team went 4-8 in 2016 and he’s off to a 1-1 start in 2017. When a team goes 5-9, I could create a hypothesis for any number of reasons for the abysmal results. I’m choosing to focus on two.

Leadership and quarterback play.

Odom’s leadership ability should be questioned based on how he has handled the defensive deficiencies of this team. Few people took issue with the Odom’s hiring of Demontie Cross as defensive coordinator. Cross is the dreaded True Son, but he was a highly qualified True Son. The glaring defensive issues of the past two years were due in large part to a change in scheme. Odom allowed Cross to change the style of play from the attacking style that had been recruited for to a read-and-react style. It didn’t work during the first half of the 2016 season and Odom mandated a midseason change. Not only that, but Odom assumed defensive play-calling responsibilities.

These changes gave us all reason for hope in 2017. Missouri fans thought we had seen the last of the failed read-and-react scheme, but rumor has it that it was on full display during the first half of the game against Missouri State. You remember that game. It’s the one where the Tigers game up 43 points, and 492 yards. The silver lining in that game was that the second half looked significantly better than the first half. Word on the street is that the defense went back to its attacking style in the second half.

Defensively the team looked better against South Carolina. There were still issues in the back-seven, but the lineman were creating pressure. The reason Missouri lost to South Carolina was not the fault of the defense. But that didn’t seem to matter to Odom as he fired Cross on Sunday afternoon.

This was a firing of convenience. Cross hasn’t been solely responsible for the defense since the beginning of the 2016 season. Odom forced a scheme change and, more importantly, took control of the in-game play calling responsibilities. Why Odom would have agreed to a scheme change when he was promoted to head coach is a real head scratcher since Missouri had won two SEC East titles on the back of attacking defenses. But it was a decision that was made. The wrong coach was fired when Cross was let go but Odom wasn’t going to fire himself. Cross became the sacrificial lamb being offered to the fans.

Now that you’ve read all of that, I’ll tell you what the real issue is. The quarterback play of Drew Lock.

Like Odom and Cross, Lock is also a True Son. He’s the son of former Tiger linebacker Andy Lock and coming out of high school, he was considered to be the kid with the golden arm. The problem being that he doesn’t have much going for him once you get past all of that arm talent.

There are times that the hype surrounding Lock is believable. The problem is that he looks Heisman caliber when he’s playing the likes of Delaware State and Missouri State. Against Power 5 opponents, Lock has averaged 188 yards per game, completed 49% of his passes, and has thrown 13 touchdowns to go along with 18 interceptions.

Not. Good. Enough.

Just look at how he played against South Carolina. He went 14-32 for 245 yards. Lock also threw one touchdown and two interceptions. A 43% completion percentage is atrocious. Even if we give him credit for the four blatant drops by the receivers, he still only completed 56% of his passes. And don’t forget that Missouri was up 10-0. Then the special teams kicked off to Deebo Samuel. Bad move. That momentum swing was capped off with a Lock interception.

Not. Good. Enough.

I considered Lock to be the real question mark going into this season. Was he going to be more Landry Jones in Josh Heupel’s offense? Or was he going to be more Blake Bell? If he was more Jones, his completion percentage would be in the 60s. If he was more Bell, it would be in the 50s. Completing 60% of his passes is where he needs to be in this offense. But Lock is a 50% passer who dips into the 40% range.

Again…Not. Good. Enough.

Both the defensive and quarterback issues are on Odom. He took responsibility for the defense but fired Cross anyway. Making that change two games into the season means that it should have been done in the off-season.

As for Lock? Odom seems to be content with the True Son as I’ve yet to hear about the backup quarterback warming up. What’s that going to take? A 30% completion percentage?

The defense is now squarely on Odom’s shoulders as he no longer has Cross around to take the criticism from the fans. He gets more leniency from the fans when it comes to Lock since many of the fans love the kid-with-the-golden-arm-who-can’t-hit-the-broadside-of-a-barn. The problem for Odom is that Jim Sterk isn’t afraid to fire a True Son.

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E-mail Seth at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @SethMerenbloom.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

 

Why Does Saturday Down South Hate Missouri and Barry Odom?

It’s been a tough couple of weeks for any Missouri fans who happen to read the content over at Saturday Down South. First, Ty Duffy published an article about conference realignment. But this wasn’t about looking forward. Rather, it was about going back in time and letting each conference do realignment with “perfect foresight.”

Re-doing SEC realignment would mean, in Duffy’s opinion, that Texas A&M would still get an invitation. Why would the Aggies still receive the invitation? Duffy doesn’t explicitly say. He must be mesmerized by the lackluster SEC finishes the Aggies have treated us all to. Here is what I remember about Texas A&M being in the SEC – Missouri beat Johnny Manziel’s Aggies to clinch its first of two SEC East championships.

In Duffy’s world, the Power 5 conferences would be whittled to a Power 3 consisting of the SEC, Big Ten, and Pac-12. The rest of the current Power-5 teams would be relegated to the ACC and the American Conference. Missouri, in Duffy’s pipe dream, would be members of the American. And the winners of Duffy’s bottom feeder conferences would never have a legitimate shot at playing in the four-team playoff. As Duffy said in his manifesto, “consistent football trumps TV market.” Except, of course, that’s not reality. Money talks and Missouri brings in the Kansas City and St. Louis markets.

As expected, Duffy and Saturday Down South received a boatload of criticism from Missouri fans. And, as expected, Saturday Down South stood by its writer just as they should have. As Saturday Down South tweeted, Duffy is simply a contributing writer.

This is all well and good. Lord knows Campus Pressbox has published content that not everyone at the site agreed with, but there’s room for everyone’s opinion and nobody is told what to write. This is as it should be. But the question remains, does Saturday Down South treat Missouri like the rented mule of the SEC? It’s a fair question and one that I believe the site doubled down on when SDS published Keith Farner’s article, Analyzing SEC over/under Win Totals.

The over/under for Missouri’s 2017-win total was set at 6.5 and Farner is taking the under. Fair enough. The Tigers weren’t bowl bound last season and have some question marks on defense this season. Farner considers Odom’s rebuild to be a year away and doubts that the team can muster three wins in SEC play. In and of itself, not a hot take. But let’s put Farner’s assessment of Odom within the context of the other second-year SEC East coaches.

Georgia has a Farner prescribed over/under of eight and the SDS writer is taking the under. Jacob Eason and a talented offense are touched upon. But what isn’t discussed is second-year coach Kirby Smart. With Missouri, the rebuild job that is staring down Odom was placed on full display. With Georgia, we were told what we already knew and that is that Georgia seldom lives up to the expectations placed upon them by writers and fans. Funny thing is that Missouri has won the East twice since joining the conference. Georgia, on the other hand, hasn’t won the East since 2012. So, if Odom has a rebuilding job ahead of him, then so does Smart. And that should’ve been worth mentioning.

And then there is Will Muschamp and South Carolina. Muschamp is entering his second year as the coach of the Gamecocks but had a less than successful stint as the coach at Florida. Just as Farner mentioned about Missouri, South Carolina also returns a high caliber offense. So why is Farner taking the over with South Carolina’s 5.5 over/under? And why is Muschamp and South Carolina considered to be a dark horse candidate to win the East while Missouri will be lucky to win three conference games? Who knows. Maybe, by going back to Duffy’s article, it’s because Missouri is lucky to even be in a power conference. Did you catch my sarcasm? Good.

If you’re familiar with my Missouri writing, I’m not always shaking my pom-poms about my alma mater’s football program. I wasn’t a fan of Odom being hired to replace Gary Pinkel, but I’m also willing to give him a fair shot to prove me wrong. Is Odom on par with Nick Saban? Hell no. Odom, all things considered, isn’t on par with Butch Jones. But for Farner to suggest that Kirby Smart and Will Muschamp each out-class Odom is ridiculous.

I’ll call my shot now. Missouri will beat South Carolina when the Gamecocks come to Columbia, MO. on September 9. After that, Odom only has to win two more SEC games to impress Farner. Will Georgia be one of those wins? It wouldn’t shock me. And who knows, in Duffy’s world Missouri is playing for its SEC life.

I’m looking forward to SDS’s next Missouri article. What can we all expect? Something along the lines of Tailgating at Missouri; You Couldn’t Do Much Worse.

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E-mail Seth at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @SethMerenbloom.

Photo: Wikipedia

 

Jim Sterk’s Missouri Tiger Legacy will Ride on Kim Anderson’s Replacement

Kim Anderson is by all accounts a great guy. Unfortunately for both him and Missouri basketball, being a great guy doesn’t guarantee professional success. And a record of complete and total ineptitude is what Anderson and his coaching staff brought to Missouri.

I’m not going to pile additional negative criticism upon this all-around great guy. If you want to read my message of fire and brimstone in regards to Anderson, you can find those articles archived on Campus Pressbox.

[Merenbloom – Missouri Tiger Basketball: Kim Anderson Proves You Can’t Always Go Home]
[Merenbloom – An Athletic Director is a Gambler and Missouri AD Mack Rhoades is Rolling the Dice with Kim Anderson]

Jim Sterk hasn’t fired Anderson, yet. But most Missouri fans consider it only a matter of time. Sterk may consider it a matter of time as well considering the statement he made about the security of Anderson’s job status. Sterk isn’t upset with the state of the Missouri basketball. He’s disappointed.

The Missouri fan base and Sterk may see the glass of disappointment as half-empty, but not Anderson. No, Anderson sees it more as a glass of opportunity that is half-full. Anderson believes that his team “competed” in the non-conference.

“I know people probably don’t want to hear this, but, as you look back at the nonconference, certainly we didn’t accomplish what we would have liked to,” Anderson said. “But I think you could realistically say it wasn’t like we got blown out by 35 points every single game. I think we competed.”

Anderson is correct when saying his team never got blown out by 35 points. But Missouri also lost to North Carolina Central, Eastern Illinois and Lipsomb. All three of those so-called buy-games were home games for Missouri. Those are games that an SEC team wins. Those aren’t games that an SEC team merely competes in. Missouri has become the buy-game for other teams and that’s disappointing.

Writers at other websites won’t venture to guess who athletic director Jim Sterk will attempt to eventually replace Anderson with due to not knowing the budget for the job opening. I, on the other hand, won’t be scared away from suggesting four coaches who I believe would be worth considering.

In all honesty, I hesitate to throw this first name out there, but it has to be done. That’s right. I’m talking about Gregg Marshall. Yes, Missouri did (or didn’t) attempt to wine and dine the Wizard of Wichita State once before, but you know what they say – timing is everything. He’s still a coach worth calling. At least it’s worth calling his agent to gauge his interest. Wichita State pays him just over $3 million.

While that is a dump truck load of money, it shouldn’t scare Sterk away. Sure, when Frank Haith left Missouri, Mike Alden may have been reluctant to pay a basketball coach more than football coach Gary Pinkel. Pinkel achieved enough success at Missouri that some want a statue built for him. But now Barry Odom roams the Missouri sideline and it should be easy to pay a basketball coach more than a first-year head coach who just went 4-8.

This next coach could be a more realistic option and would offer a potential juicy side story. How about University of Washington coach Lorenzo Romar? I wouldn’t hate seeing Romar in black and gold. Romar established himself as an ace recruiter in Seattle. The coach has a track record of recruiting coast-to-coast and that includes securing a commitment from Columbia, Missouri native Michael Porter Jr.

Recruiting has never been Romar’s issue. Winning in the NCAA tournament is what’s been the thorn in Romar’s side. And that is what has him on the hot-seat. I believe Romar could make sense at Missouri because he would bring talent to Columbia. Talent is something that Missouri basketball has desperately lacked under Anderson. Once he enticed talented players to wear the Tiger uniform, there is no doubt in my mind that he would win in the SEC. Oh yeah. As for that potential juicy side story? If Romar is the coach to replace Anderson, the telling sign could be whether or not Porter Jr. signs his letter of intent at Washington.

My preference for Missouri basketball would be to lure a current, successful Division-I head coach to Columbia. But sometimes our lives don’t turn out the way we hoped for and we don’t get what we want (see the Kim Anderson hire). There has to be a backup plan that would still leave Missouri fans feeling comfortable. My preferred backup plan includes a less heralded head coach and an assistant coach.

How would Missouri fans feel about Chris Collins leading the charge at Mizzou Arena? For starters, get over the fact that he played at Duke. Not every former Duke assistant is going to sleep with a player’s girlfriend (allegedly) or snort cocaine in the Capital Grille bathroom (allegedly). Collins has been the head coach at Northwestern since 2013 and he’s turned that program into a winner. His Wildcat team won 20 games during the 2015-16 season. That was good enough for 9th place in the Big Ten. But come on. It’s the Big Ten, and unlike the SEC, there is quality basketball being played there.

Do you know who Ron Sanchez is? Probably not. Truth be told, I didn’t know who Ron Sanchez was prior to working on this article. But I’m now a fan of Ron Sanchez. Sanchez is currently an assistant coach at the University of Virginia. Prior to his job with the Cavaliers, he was one of Tony Bennett’s assistants while at Washington State. Here’s what I like about Sanchez. He has been a successful contributor to programs that don’t rely on blue-chip recruits. Sanchez is schooled in implementing a system and recruiting players who will fit into that system. For a school like Missouri that doesn’t have a track record of attracting high-profile recruits, a coach like Sanchez could do well in Columbia.

This isn’t a complete list of coaches who I would be happy seeing at Missouri, but these are four coaches who would give me the hope that Anderson has stripped out of the program. Other coaches who I would like to see considered are Mark Montgomery, Steve Masiello, and Jeff Boals.

There is one coach who would be a big, bold hire for Missouri. As I stated with Marshall, timing is everything and this candidate being a viable candidate would require perfect timing. The coach I am talking about is Fred Hoiberg. He was a terrific coach during his tenure at his alma mater, Iowa State. Hoiberg is in his second season with the Chicago Bulls and his seat grows hotter by the day in the Windy City. When talking with my friends who are Missouri basketball fans, I’ve professed my love for Hoiberg. He would be my top choice if available. Hoiberg’s availability would hinge on when the Bulls decide to cut The Mayor loose. If he is fired mid-season, Sterk needs to put the full-court press on hiring him.

Sterk has a monumental task in front of him. Missouri fans love having a winning football team but I believe what most Tiger fans desire is a winning basketball team. While the legacies of most Power 5 athletic directors ride on their head football coaching hires, Sterk’s legacy may ride on this basketball hire. No pressure, Jim. Just don’t screw it up.

E-mail Seth at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @SethMerenbloom.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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Picking Up the Pieces of the 2016 SEC Football Season

The championship games are now in the book as well as a few straggling regular season games. Army-Navy remains. That being said, let’s do some housekeeping and tidy up a few odds and ends concerning the SEC.

First, we’ll saunter back to SEC Media Days and review how the scribes’ picks turned out.

As you see in this article, Alabama was picked to win the SEC West and Tennessee was the choice to represent the SEC East in Atlanta. Alabama, obviously, held up their end of the deal but the Vols did not. The Florida Gators managed to take the division by default. The Crimson Tide steamrolled the West in dominant fashion. They won their division by three games over who? The Auburn Tigers.

Auburn was picked not second, or third, of fourth, or fifth. They were picked sixth in the West behind LSU, Ole Miss, Texas A&M, and Arkansas.

Bravo for the Tigers! And they were rewarded with a trip to the Big Easy and the Sugar Bowl. They will take on Big 12 champion, Oklahoma. It could be one of the better games of the entire bowl season. More on that, and other bowls, in later columns.

What about the cellar dwellers? South Carolina was the choice to bring up the rear in the East, but the Gamecocks, modestly exceeded expectations and came in fourth. Missouri had the distinction of finishing last in the “Easy.”One of the Mississippi teams was tagged by the media to sink to the bottom in the grueling West. But it was the Bulldogs of Mississippi State that was chosen for that “honor.” Ole Miss, much to the surprise of most every football fan in the country, plummeted to the number seven spot while predicted to come in third.

Here is a complete look at how the standings shook down in 2016.

Here is how the media sized up the All-SEC selections.

And here are the coaches’ choices (the only one we have when this article was composed) for All-SEC.

Glaring discrepancies on the first team offense? Chad Kelly at quarterback, Leonard Fournette at running back, Nick Chubb at running back, Calvin Ridley at wide receiver, and O.J. Howard at tight end.

Jalen Hurts, Kamryn Pettway, Derrius Guice, ArDarius Stewart, and Evan Engram took those slots.

Defense? As you peruse the lists you will note that things went pretty much as expected. Good job media!

The coaches individual award winners on offense, defense, and coach went to Jalen Hurts, Jonathan Allen, and Nick Saban. As Gomer Pyle used to say, “Surprise! Surprise! Surprise!”But, in all fairness, who’d a thunk Jalen Hurts would walk off with the offensive player of the year? No one could have seen that coming.

In this interim, between the regular season and bowl season, and beyond, there are some questions we look forward to seeing answered.

What will the NCAA decide in the way of punishment for Ole Miss?

Will Nick Saban retire? (Wishful thinking)

What underclassmen might surprise us by succumbing to the lure of dollars and the NFL?

How hot is Butch Jones’ fanny?

Kevin Sumlin’s?

Will Lane Kiffin take a head coaching position? (More wishful thinking)

How about Rhett Lashlee?

Will Jim McElwain ever find a quarterback?

Will Gus Malzahn?

Will Kirby Smart be a bust?

Will Barry Odom?

Who might be the next Jalen Hurts or Kamryn Pettway?

Is anyone capable of bridging the gap between Alabama and everybody else?

And… is the SEC still the top of the heap in the world of college football.

The bowl games are upon us and, with their conclusion, the season of 2016 will be but a memory.

What does 2017 hold for us as college football fans?

In the words of a wise man… we shall see.

 

E-mail Bird at bird [dot] lecroy [at] campuspressbox [dot] com or follow him on Twitter @Autull.

 

Butch Jones is Winning the Championship of Life

When Butch Jones was hired in 2013 to be the head coach of the University of Tennesse football team, he brought with him all of the hopes and dreams that accompany all new coaches. Jones was going to restore the greatness of the Volunteer football program that hadn’t been seen since Phil Fulmer was leading the program to conference and national championship games.

But hopes and dreams don’t always turn out as planned.

Since arriving in Knoxville, Jones has collected an impressive array of talent. There have been high-profile recruits all over the field for Jones. Nevermind that much of that talent didn’t stick around Knoxville. Even with this level of attrition, there was still enough talent left that fans and the media began expecting and anticipating championship caliber years.

The fact-of-the-matter is that none of the championship expectations ever materialized. Since taking over the Volunteer program, Jones has lost the SEC East to Missouri and Florida. Both Missouri and Florida have each won the East twice. It’s far easier for Volunteer fans to accept losing the division to Florida as opposed to Missouri. Missouri is the team that Tennessee fans like to beat up on. But Missouri has had far more recent success than Tennessee. That has to be tough to swallow.

So what does Jones have to hang his hat on during his tenure on the Tennessee sideline? Life. In his recent press conference, Jones said that his team may not have ever won the SEC East, but in his mind, his team has won the championship of life.

This sounds ridiculous. Jones attempted to detract from his team’s on-field performance by talking about how mature his players are.  No, coach Jones, the perceived maturity of your players doesn’t balance the scales when weighed against the lack of high-level success.

Jones talked about this year’s senior class bringing Tennessee back. But Tennessee really isn’t back. The Vols haven’t won a divisional SEC East championship since 2007 and haven’t won the SEC championship since 1998. Tennessee isn’t back.

The graduation rate was also referenced by Jones. Yes, a high percentage of his players have and will graduate. We all know about the academic prowess of Joshua Dobbs. But the graduation rate of his players isn’t going to pacify the fans. As the years tick by, Tennessee fans won’t accept Missouri winning divisional titles even with the high graduation rate of Jones’ program.

Speaking of Dobbs, he had his coach’s back and defended the championship of life comment.

Dobbs should be commended for sticking up for his coach, but it doesn’t make Jones’ comment any less absurd. And in defending Jones the way that Dobbs did, Dobbs came off sounding just as ignorant as Jones. When Dobbs and his teammates look back on their time in Knoxville, wins and losses will matter. Dobbs’ record is what will define his Tennessee legacy. Not the relationships that he built or how he affected the people he came in contact with. And what will matter least in defining his legacy will be how much he enjoyed his experience at Tennessee. Dobbs will leave Tennessee with a warm and fuzzy feeling. Great. The fact remains that Tennessee never won as much as a divisional championship with Dobbs as the full-time starting quarterback.

Jones has to be savvier than this. He has to know that he can’t minimize the lack of championships being won in Knoxville. Especially this year. Tennessee should have run away with the East. The Vols had talent and depth and Jones should have been considered the gold standard of coaches in the East. Remember, Barry Odom and Kirby Smart have never been head coaches before this year and Will Muschamp is in his first year at South Carolina. Jim McElwain is a fine enough coach, but his Florida team doesn’t have an offense that anyone trusts. This is what Jones and Tennessee lost the division too. Jones continues to be unable to win a division that is often times referred to as “hot garbage.”

Jones seems content to take a We Are The World attitude as his team wins championships of life. He needs to acknowledge the reality of the situation. His teams haven’t been good enough to beat “hot garbage.”

E-mail Seth at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @SethMerenbloom.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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Barry Odom is Driving the Woody Wagon

As a middle-schooler living in a suburb of Baltimore, Md., I was all about Maryland Terrapins basketball and Len Bias, the Orioles and Cal Ripken, Jr., and the Baltimore Colts and Johnny Unitas. College football was the furthest thing from my mind. So when my family and I moved to Columbia, Mo. in 1988, I had no idea that I would become a huge Missouri Tiger football fan.

There wasn’t much to cheer about in 1988 as a Tiger fan. Woody Widenhofer was starting what would become his last year as head coach of his alma mater. To say the Woody Wagon was a rough ride would be an understatement.

I lived close enough to Memorial Stadium that the sounds of Marching Mizzou starting its early morning pre-game rehearsals would help wake me up on game days. As an impressionable 8th grader, I was still too young to realize that the team really had no chance to beat their competition, but I always had hope. 28 years later, i’m thinking that hope should have come with a complimentary bottle of scotch to ease the pain.

Widenhofer finished his Tiger coaching career with a record of 12-31-1. When he was hired, it seemed like a good idea. He had played at Missouri and was instrumental in the Steel Curtain defense that made the Pittsburgh Steelers so dominant. He just wasn’t a good head coach.

Missouri now has another True Son, defensive guru coaching the team and it’s not going well. Vahe Gregorian compared the ineptitude of Barry Odom’s 2016 team to Widenhofer’s first year at Missouri. I don’t know about any other Tiger fans, but yes Vahe, I too am having flashbacks to the bumpy ride on the Woody Wagon.

Odom’s tenure at Missouri could very well turn out better than Widenhofer’s. It’s only Odom’s first year as a head coach, so he should be given a reasonable chance to prove himself. Still, it’s next to impossible to find the silver lining in what Tiger fans are having to witness.

Much was made of the new defensive scheme that was implemented at the start of the 2016 season. The new scheme has been a complete disaster and has left fans calling for defensive coordinator DeMontie Cross to be fired. Sure, Cross is in charge of the defense, but this was a scheme that Odom wanted to install last season, so much of the blame should fall on Odom’s shoulders. Thank goodness Gary Pinkel said no to that move.

To Odom’s credit, he isn’t a “we do what we do” type of coach and he did acknowledge that this new read-and-react style of defense wasn’t working. Going into the Kentucky game, he changed the scheme back to what had worked so well in the past. Even with a group of defensive players that knew this style, it didn’t matter against Kentucky. The defense once again gave up over 500 yards of offense. That was an accomplishment that not even Widenhofer’s teams had accomplished.

Some may say that i’m being too critical of Odom. I would say that i’m not. Yes, there have been a number of season ending injuries to defensive starters, but these problems existed even when those star defenders were healthy. Youth can be used as an excuse for losing if you’re an apologist. Quality coaching can offset the negative impact that goes along with being considered a young team. That is if you believe that quality coaching not only includes Xs and Os, but also recruiting. Missouri football is suffering from an inexperienced coach and a lack of talent.

When former athletics director Mack Rhoades hired Odom, he went cheap. He went so cheap that Odom is the lowest paid head football coach in the SEC. There were a number of issues surrounding the Missouri program at the time, so it was going to be a tough hire. But as they say, you get what you pay for and Missouri seems to be getting what it paid for. A cheap, bargain basement True Son who is pulling the Woody Wagon out of the garage, dusting it off and taking it for another romp around Columbia.

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A Lack of Talent is the Problem at Mizzou

The Missouri Tigers have problems. Reading those words should not create a shocked expression on your face. This team having problems shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, but what should come as a surprise is just how many problems the team has on the field.

Having problems shouldn’t come as a surprise for several reasons. Those reasons include having been garbage last year and having a new coaching staff this year. Not only is the coaching staff new, but the team is led by Barry Odom, who has no previous head coaching experience at the college level. All of this adds up to a bad recipe. But even I didn’t think the recipe would be as bad as it’s been. My preseason prediction was just a little off.

[Seth Merenbloom:  Barry Odom is the New Missouri Tigers Football Coach: Another True Son Comes Home]

You may be asking yourself where the problems start and I have an answer for you. The problems start with talent. This team doesn’t have nearly enough talent on the roster. Sure, Odom is playing primarily with Gary Pinkel’s recruits and Pinkel excelled at finding diamonds in the rough. But there are more cubic zirconia on this roster than diamonds.

There are some players that are legitimate SEC caliber players. I’m talking about guys like Josh Augusta, Terry Beckner Jr. and Aarion Penton. And there are others on the roster who have potential but are still young. Those are players like Drew Lock and Damarea Crockett. But players like this are few and far between at Mizzou.

This lack of talent also means that there is a severe lack of depth. And a lack of depth not only influences the ability for the backups to compete against other SEC rosters, but it also influences how those top tier guys play. I’m not saying that Mizzou’s legitimate SEC caliber players are lazy, but competition breeds results and these players aren’t being pushed in practice.

And that leads me to the most important position on the field: Quarterback.

I was excited when Lock committed to Mizzou. He has the physical tools to be a successful SEC quarterback. I can only hope that he has the mental tools to be a successful SEC quarterback. But what we’ve seen from him so far leads me to question what is going on between his ears. But I am willing to keep my faith in Lock for one reason. He’s still young.

Yes, Lock played last season as a true freshman, but that was due to the situation that now departed quarterback Maty Mauk created. Lock was thrown into the fire when he really wasn’t ready. So I consider this to be his freshman season. Based on that reasoning, this year shouldn’t tell us much about what he will become at Mizzou. My apologies to TJ Moe, but Lock has never been the best quarterback in the SEC. I don’t care how good he looked against Eastern Michigan or Delaware State.

Next year is the year that will tell me what I need to know about Lock. He’ll have been in Josh Heupel’s system for over a year and will be a Junior. If he isn’t able to do more than just throw a pretty ball against teams like Delaware State then Odom and Heupel need to move on from the Lock experiment. And that goes back to one of my original points. To move on from Lock requires there to be depth behind him. Right now that depth just isn’t there. Sure there are fans begging for Marvin Zanders to play significant snaps but i’d be shocked if he created a Mizzou pulse against SEC competition.

Ultimately this all falls on the coaching staff. No, the coaches don’t strap helmets on and play the game, but the coaches are the ones who recruit and put the roster together. The coaches are also responsible for the development of that talent.

The assistant coaching staff that Odom put together is impressive on paper. He hired guys who coached at Oklahoma, Baylor and TCU. But here’s the thing. Those teams had incredible talent so it was easy for those coaches to look like football wizards. So like I said, it starts with recruiting. Who on this staff is going to sign the talent that will make them all look like geniuses? Every Mizzou fan is waiting to find out.

 

E-mail Seth at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @SethMerenbloom.

Photo: Wikipedia

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A New Mizzou – None of Us Know What to Expect

Close your eyes and imagine it’s Sept 3rd, 2016, 11am.  Missouri v. West Virginia.

What do you expect to see?  What does the Missouri Tiger football team look like?  And I’m not talking about the uniform combination. I’m talking about what you expect out of the University of Missouri Tigers under the guidance of new head coach Barry Odom.

What do you expect to see?

Well, you’re wrong.

We all are.

What we have here is A New Mizzou.  This era of Mizzou football is one that nobody can predict.  This isn’t your average “Aww shucks. We’ve lost some seniors to graduation and we have a bunch of baby faced freshmen coming in and we don’t know what to expect out of ‘em” unpredictability.

No folks, this is a whole different level of unpredictability.  Mizzou should patent this level of unpredictability.

This one would be filed under the longest run on sentence in the history of history category.  It would read a little something like this…

“Well we’ve lost Mizzou’s winningest coach due to cancer related health concerns. With him, we’ve lost the highest sustained level of success this program has ever experienced.  Oh, and we’re replacing our former head coach of 15 seasons with a first time head coach and O and D coordinators who haven’t achieved anything noteworthy at this level either.  It doesn’t stop there…

We also have a team fresh off a boycott last fall – a boycott which was a part of racially fueled protests on campus involving a hunger strike, a list of student demands, gained international attention and led to the ousting of the system president, chancellor and some curators just for good measure.

And you thought that was all… funny.

The Athletic Director’s office has been a turnstyle, with the left field departure of Mack Rhoades to Baylor, and a MUsical chairs routine of interim AD’s before finally stopping on one Jim Sterk (at least for now).

These changes along with regular ass changes like losing seniors to graduation, cultivating a new crop of baby faced freshmen, along with the all to common dismissal of players for “academic reasons” and “violation of team rules”.

The only thing that would make this situation more comical is if it was coming out of the Ol’ Ball Coach, Steve Spurrier’s mouth.  But it ain’t.  So here we are.

Now, let me ask again, What do you expect to see out of the 2016 Missouri Tiger football team?

Actually, don’t answer that.  No matter what you expect to see, or what you’re about to say, you’re gonna be wrong – we all are – and that’s ok.

But being wrong doesn’t mean we can’t have still some predictions and expectations for what’s in store for us on Saturday afternoons this fall.

Given all of the goings on in Columbia since last fall, I only come away with a couple near certainties for this New Mizzou.

  1. Expect to be surprised.  New faces all over the coaching staff is going to breathe new ideas, concepts and ultimately a new feel to this football team.  Regardless of outcome, that brings some fresh squeezed excitement to the program.  If you felt that the Tigers had grown stale under coach Pinkel, under Odom, they’ve shed that skin and given way to the real possibility for surprise.
  2. Rough patches.  Like a yard that’s been excavated and reseeded with new kentucky blue grass, it’s gonna take time for the grass to root and begin to grow.  Along the way, we’ll likely see some patchy spots, some bigger than others, and some crab grass sprouting up where you’d rather not have it.  Hopefully sooner than later we’ll have a well manicured yard worth showing off to the neighbors.
  3. Defense.  The one and only expectation I think we can all feel confident in is playing Defense.  It’s been the core of Barry Odom’s success as a football player and coach, and the most consistent and strongest aspect of the team from last year.  Defense you can pack up and take with you anywhere you go.  Defense is ugly and the uglier it gets, the better it is.  Expect Defense, and with that defense, expect Mizzou to be competitive in 2016.

Despite all these changes and despite the black thundercloud of negativity currently hanging over the University of Missouri, when you open your eyes on Sept. 3rd, you will see A New Mizzou, and god-willing and the creek don’t rise, one that we can all be proud of again.

 

E-mail Ryan at ryan or follow him on Twitter @ryanbinkley

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Picture courtesy of Wikimedia user Marcus Qwertyus.

The Missouri Tigers Will Restore Their Roar in 2016

The sound we heard coming out of Columbia, Missouri last year was of a whimpering Missouri Tigers football team, but now, in 2016, everyone should be prepared for Missouri to restore some of its roar.

Now don’t misunderstand what I mean when I say “roar.” I don’t expect the Tigers to challenge for the SEC East crown in 2016 but I also don’t believe some of the national so-called experts to be correct when they picked Missouri to finish dead last in the East.

Let me say it again to anyone who thinks this Missouri team is going to finish last in the East… Not gonna happen!

The reasons that Missouri will restore its SEC East roar in 2016 is for two reasons. The first being what has become the cornerstone of the Tiger program and that’s the defense. You know what they say; death, taxes and a strong Missouri defense. The second reason being that their offense can’t possibly be as statistically bad as it was in 2015.

Sure, Missouri’s defensive line coach, Craig Kuligowski, left to join Mark Richt at Miami, but there is enough talent left on defense that new defensive line coach Jackie Shipp should still have guys like Charles Harris meeting at the quarterback.

As for the defensive coordinator, well, former TCU defensive coordinator Demontie Cross (and former Tiger player) was brought in once Barry Odom was promoted to head coach. Cross’ defensive units played well at TCU and we should expect nothing less from his Missouri defenses.

Now about that offense…

Offensive line coach AJ Ricker and offensive coordinator Josh Henson are each no longer with the team. They were basically public enemy 1 and 2 with the Missouri fans last season, so nobody lost sleep when they were replaced with Glen Elarbee and Josh Heupel.

On the offensive line, Elarbee won’t have guys who have much starting experience, but he will have guys who have been in the program. Rumor around town is that he is instilling more of a mean streak in how the big boys up front play. I’m of the mindset that it starts in trenches, so I hope that this rumor is actually reality.

Heupel comes in with, well, a lot of hype. Yea, I see what I did there and you see what I did there. But back to business…

His offenses at Oklahoma were prolific. Sure, he had Heisman caliber skill position players in the Sooner Schooner, but he was also responsible for putting those players in position to maximize their talents. His offense at Utah State was also effective even when tasked with working around injured quarterbacks.

Heupel will have an experienced quarterback in Drew Lock and a starting running back in Alex Ross who, after transferring from Oklahoma, should know exactly what is expected in a Heupel offense. If the offensive line gives Lock and Ross time to operate, Heupel’s offense could really hum.

As I’ve said before, Odom does have an uphill battle at Missouri, but the Oklahoma influence that he has embedded at Mizzou should pay dividends. I say this because Oklahoma has been all about winning, so this Sooner influence will always be one that starts with a simple question – Can we win at an elite level?

What does all of this mean as far as wins and losses in 2016? Glad you asked…

I expect this team to win 7 or 8 games and this should be good enough for a 3rd or 4th place finish in the SEC East. You’re probably thinking that to win this many games a few upsets would need to occur and you would be correct. Look for Missouri to beat Georgia, particularly if Jacob Eason is the starting quarterback, and look for Missouri to go to The Swamp and beat Florida.
Oh, and because I can never put my animosity towards Tennessee aside, expect one helluva ball game in Knoxville this year.

E-mail Seth at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @SethMerenbloom

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