KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri fired football coach Barry Odom on Saturday, ending the four-year stay of a respected former player who took over a program in disarray but could never get the Tigers over the hump in the brutal SEC.
The Tigers finished 6-6 and 3-5 in the conference after beating Arkansas on Friday. That left Odom with a 25-25 record, a perfectly middling mark after Gary Pinkel’s successful run.
Athletic director Jim Sterk called the dismissal a “difficult” but “necessary” move.
“He and his staff have worked diligently during the past four years,” Sterk said in a statement. “Coach Odom has represented our program with integrity and dedicated himself to developing our student-athletes on and off the football field for which we are grateful.”
Sterk was expected to speak later in the day at Mizzou Arena.
The Tigers were projected to contend for the top of the SEC East this season with the return of several key players and the arrival of high-profile Clemson transfer Kelly Bryant at quarterback. But the season began with a bumbling loss to Wyoming and never really got on track, and the Tigers were forced to beat Arkansas just to become bowl-eligible.
Not that winning six games mattered.
This past week, the school lost its appeal of NCAA penalties stemming from an incident involving a rogue tutor. That decision left in place postseason bans, recruiting and scholarship restrictions levied against the football, baseball and softball programs.
“As a program, we had tremendous momentum coming into the 2019 season with the opening of the new south end zone facility as well as other strategic investments in our football program,” Sterk said. “However, we lost a great deal of that energy during the last half of the season.”
It remains to be seen what candidates Missouri can given its significant disadvantages. Along with the current NCAA sanctions, Odom was one of the lowest-paid coaches in the SEC. The school also resides outside the league’s natural footprint, and will forever battle SEC East behemoths Georgia and Florida — along with the powers in the SEC West, such and Alabama and Auburn — for both recruits and wins.
Near the top of the list could be Josh Heupel, who coached at Oklahoma and Missouri before taking over at Central Florida. Memphis coach Mike Norvell, Boise State’s Bryan Harsin and Louisville coach Billy Napier are up-and-coming options, while Greg Schiano is still available after a deal fell through to return to Rutgers.
Odom was hired in December 2015 when Pinkel retired because of health reasons, and it seemed a natural fit. Odom had played for the Tigers in the late 1990s, coached prep football in Missouri and began his college career as a student assistant for Pinkel during the 2003 season.
Odom then spent several years in football operations before returning to the sideline. He coached the Tigers’ safeties and then joined Justin Fuentes’ staff at Memphis as the defensive coordinator. He came back to Missouri as Pinkel’s defensive coordinator during the 2015 season.
That year race-related protests erupted across the Missouri campus.
The movement primarily was led by a student group, but football players later announced they would not practice or play until school president Timothy Wolfe resigned — a move that could have cost the school $1 million in forfeited game fines. Wolfe ultimately announced his resignation, and the football team returned to the field to finish Pinkel’s final season.
Odom stepped into that still-volatile situation in December, at 38 becoming the second-youngest coach in school history. He provided a calming influence that extended across the campus, and set about rebuilding a program that had started to slip.
The Tigers won four games his first season but improved by three wins in the next, earning a trip to the Texas Bowl. The Tigers went 8-5 last season with a loss in the Liberty Bow, but had shown enough progress to earn Odom an extension in December 2018.
Missouri brought in several high-profile transfers this season, including Bryant and Arkansas wide receiver Jonathan Nance. But after the Tigers were picked third behind Georgia and Florida in the SEC East, they absorbed a stunning 37-31 loss to the Cowboys to open the season.
The Tigers rebounded to win five straight games, beating South Carolina and Ole Miss to start 2-0 in conference play. But their offense unspooled in a stunning streak of futility: They lost 21-14 at Vanderbilt, 29-7 at Kentucky, 27-0 at Georgia and 23-6 to Florida.
Their loss to lowly Tennessee ran the Tigers’ losing streak to five straight, and not even a season-ending 24-14 victory over border-rival Arkansas was enough to save Odom’s job.