Missouri head coach Barry Odom looks to the field

Missouri head coach Barry Odom looks to the field during the fourth quarter as  Missouri takes on Florida on Nov. 16 on Faurot Field.

In the early parts of this season, Missouri coach Barry Odom and senior captain Cale Garrett talked on multiple occasions about green grass.

In regard to sanctions and players deciding to stick around in the wake of them, Odom and Garrett used variations of this phrase: “The grass isn’t always greener somewhere else. It’s greener where you water it.”

Now the question is whether MU athletic director Jim Sterk thinks the same way when it comes to who will be coaching the Tigers next season.

“Barry has done a really good job,” Sterk said Tuesday during the press conference following the NCAA appeal ruling. “We’re focusing on this today, and after the season we will talk about it.”

Is the grass greener elsewhere, as in: Should Missouri look to hire someone else to lead the Tigers? Or, is Odom still the best option to lead the program?

Of course, the Tigers would like a coach who will lead them to winning season after winning season, losing one, maybe two games a year. But is that realistic? Maybe at Alabama or Georgia, but not at Missouri.

That doesn’t mean a 5-6 season has to be accepted or seen as good enough, especially when Odom’s teams won 15 games over the past two seasons and he led Missouri to two bowls.

Heading into Friday’s season finale against Arkansas, Odom has tallied a 24-25 record over four years. Since Missouri hired him in 2016, that win total ranks tied for third-fewest with Tennessee in the SEC. Only Arkansas, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt have fewer wins over that span. (In case you’re wondering, Alabama is 51-4 since 2016.)

That doesn’t bode well for Odom, and there’s no doubt Missouri can do better than an average of six wins per year. But perhaps a case can be made that the Tigers are getting what they’re paying for.

Heading into the 2019 season, Odom’s salary ranked 47th among NCAA coaches, according to the USA Today database. He makes $3.05 million, tied with Mississippi State’s Joe Moorhead for lowest in the SECSoutheastern Conference.

Missouri hasn’t been able to pay top dollar for its coaches, especially not now with a department that has operated in the red for the past two years and suddenly has to worry about paying back a loan from the university for the budget deficit that will come from the loss of bowl revenue because of a postseason ban. But even if there weren’t budget issues, the Tigers will never be paying a coach $8.7 million like Alabama does for Nick Saban, or $7.5 million like Texas A&M gives Jimbo Fischer.

That doesn’t mean the Tigers can’t or won’t make a change, though. Perhaps Sterk feels someone else can better maximize the money they pay for Odom.

Odom, after all, was not a Sterk hire. He had the job before Sterk took over in fall 2016.

Sterk doesn’t have a long history of firing and/or hiring football coaches. He didn’t fire anyone during his previous stop at San Diego State. The most recent firing came when Sterk was at Washington State. He fired Bill Doba in 2007.

Now, that firing is interesting because Doba’s numbers weren’t all that different from Odom’s. Doba finished with a 30-29 record, about .500 just like Odom. Doba, a Sterk hire, also finished with a 5-7 record in his last season with Washington State, the exact record with which Odom and the Tigers will finish this season if they lose to Arkansas.

Sterk also would have likely needed to fire Doba’s replacement, too, if Sterk hadn’t left for San Diego State. Paul Wulff, who Sterk hired after Doba, went 9-40.

Now, none of these firings occurred in the SECSoutheastern Conference, a much different playing field when it comes to job security.

Chad Morris is the most recent coach to have lost his job after he took Arkansas to a 4-19 record over the past two seasons.

So let’s look instead at a few other recent firings of coaches who had records more comparable to Odom in the SEC: Butch Jones, Jim McElwain and Brett Bielema. All three lost their jobs in 2017.

Jones went 34-27 over five seasons at Tennessee. McElwain went 22-12 over three seasons at Florida. Bielema finished with a record of 29-34 over five seasons at Arkansas.

Odom’s numbers certainly fall in those ranges.

But it might be in the best interest of the Tigers to keep Odom. The Missouri job likely isn’t terribly attractive right now after the NCAA upheld the sanctions Tuesday. Whoever is coaching the Tigers will face some recruiting challenges such as fewer scholarships and official visits.

And, with a victory Friday, Odom will have had only one losing record during his four years leading the Tigers.

That might not be enough for Sterk to keep him around, though. His gaze might already be fixed on the other side. He might be done watering the grass he was given when he took the job.

  • Nick Kelly is a Missouri football reporter for the Columbia Missourian. A native of Minneapolis, Minn., he is studying magazine writing and business. Previously, he covered sports for The Boston Globe, Tampa Bay Times and The Athletic.

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