Sterk Now the One Under the Gun

By Howard Balzer

When Barry Odom was hired by the University of Missouri in 2016, he was the lowest paid of all SEC head coaches.

That was rectified exactly one year ago on Dec. 5, 2018, when Odom agreed to a two-year extension through 2024 that increased his salary by $600,000, and academic and athletic incentives to $1.8 million. Reportedly, he vaulted to 11th among SEC coaches with that new deal.

To listen to Mizzou administrators at the time, you’d think they had reupped the next incarnation of Nick Saban.

Said athletics director Jim Sterk, “Barry Odom has done an outstanding job of leading the Mizzou Football program the last three seasons and I’m grateful that we are able to reward that success today. He is building a championship culture within his program that fosters academic achievement, athletic success and accountability, and I am proud of what he has been able to accomplish during his first three seasons. With this year’s success and the South End Zone facility coming on-line next year, I believe Mizzou Football enjoys great momentum heading into the 2019 season and I look forward to working with Coach Odom to build upon that.

“Coach Odom has a tremendous passion for teaching and developing our student-athletes, on and off the field, which aligns well with our departmental philosophy to Win it Right. With this new contract, we felt it was important to recognize Coach Odom’s commitment to our football program and University, and we look forward to his continued leadership and watching him make a positive difference in the lives of our student-athletes.”

The accolades continued with this from university chancellor Alexander Cartwright: “Coach Odom is the epitome of what it means to be Mizzou Made. From his days as a linebacker for the Tigers to his time on the sidelines, Barry has taken the core values of Mizzou – Respect, Responsibility, Discovery and Excellence – to heart. He is a champion for the university, helping our university celebrate academic achievements and supporting all of our student athletes, both on and off the field.”

Famous last words.

Now, thanks to the extension and raise, the buyout for firing Odom is around $3 million. However, where is the accountability for those that made that decision? Granted, the 2019 season was a disappointment. We all know that a step back on the field is usually not forgiven. Could it be that the high expectations for the team was not warranted? Perhaps. But heads had to roll, and Odom’s led the way.

Sterk and Co. took little time jettisoning Odom following the season-finale win over Arkansas that was accomplished with the No. 3 quarterback under center.

Naturally, the question is what happens next, which led to the report by the Post-Dispatch’s Dave Matter that “some members of the UM System Board of Curators aren’t thrilled with some of the choices being presented as options.”

This comes after Sterk assured listeners to his press conference after firing Odom that the university had the resources to hire a top-line coach. It’s certainly what the program’s donors want. After all, it is many of those donors that had an impact on the departure of Odom.

The Post-Dispatch report had sources confirm that Arkansas State’s Blake Anderson, Jeff Monken of Army and Skip Holtz of Louisiana Tech are some of Sterk’ targets. Others mentioned have been Nevada’s Jay Norvell, Tulane’s Willie Fritz, Air Force’s Troy Calhoun, and Charlotte’s Will Healy. According to Matter, “Earlier in the week, sources indicated Boise State’s Bryan Harsin would be a prime target, but he hasn’t been mentioned as a realistic option in recent days.”

Matter also wrote, “Board members did not outright reject any candidate, but some are worried about the public fallout if Mizzou doesn’t consider other high-profile coaches instead of settling for lesser-known names.”

First, let’s substitute donors for public fallout, although the latter is an issue with those that have said they won’t commit to buying tickets.

Second, and, most important, is whether seeking a “high-profile” coach is worth the effort because of the low odds of landing someone. Let’s be real: Gary Pinkel wasn’t exactly a high-profile coach when he was hired in 2001.

One consistent truism in the helter-skelter world of head football coaches on the pro or college level is that the easiest thing to do is firing a coach. But the toughest task is finding someone even just as good, much less better than the one you already had.

It is Sterk’s charge to do just that. If he doesn’t, it will likely lead to his head heading out the door next.