Odom’s comfort brings confidence to the Tigers

A greater sense of comfort for head football coach Barry Odom has provided the Tigers with a boost ahead of the 2017 season.

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It’s hard to imagine many situations in which Barry Odom is uncomfortable. The man projects power in just about anything he does. On the practice field, Odom moves from each individual drill with speed and intensity; look down, and he’s no longer where you left him, now supervising another group of players 40 yards down the field. In press conferences, he oozes confidence even as he discusses his young and unproven defense or his ailing secondary.

When he leads his team out of the tunnel on game day, he still looks just as much of a football player as he might have when he played for the Tigers nearly 20 years ago.

In his first year as the head coach of the Tigers last season, however, Odom was at times insecure and uneasy, even as he swaggered around Faurot Field and the Tigers’ practice facility. Earlier this summer, Odom detailed some of those struggles to Vahe Gregorian of the Kansas City Star, telling Gregorian that he experienced some unrest early on.

“I’ve always for whatever reason had some trust issues,” Odom told the Star.

Given the state of Missouri football, and the entire university for that matter during the past two-plus years, one could see from where those issues may have stemmed.

Now entering his second season, Odom feels those issues have dissipated, and there are reasons for Missouri’s head coach to feel more relaxed. The Tigers have 14 starters returning from last season’s team. There is stability in the Athletics Department as Athletic Director Jim Sterk appears to be at Mizzou to stay, a stark contrast from the administrative revolving door Odom knew early on in his time here. Perhaps most importantly, he has a year of experience under his belt. Whatever the reason, Odom has an increased sense of comfort as the season approaches.

“...It’s been easier this year,” Odom told Gregorian. “There’s not any hidden agendas in the room, which I can’t always say was the case.”

To offensive coordinator Josh Heupel, also entering his second season with the Tigers, the difference with Coach Odom is palpable, and he pointed to the idea of having a full understanding of the expectations of the job as a reason.

“There’s a calmness,” Heupel said after a practice nearing the end of training camp. “Maybe some of that nervous energy isn’t there.”

Defensive coordinator DeMontie Cross — for whom the Tigers’ young and inexperienced defense may provide some discomfort — has noticed a change, too.

“He’s definitely a lot more comfortable but still as hungry and determined to get us back into championship form,” Cross said.

To Cross, though, the most important aspect of this change is not what it has done for his head coach but the impact it has had on the rest of the coaching staff and the team. With more stability and confidence coming from the top, Cross has seen a difference all around the team’s facilities.

“I think it actually has trickled down,” Cross said. “We see the poise in him, and it’s really carried over to everything we’ve seen [from the team] in the weight room and out on the field during the spring and summer.”

Comfort is something that redshirt sophomore wideout Johnathon Johnson has thought about this year, as well. Coming off an up-and-down season in which he impressed with his speed and struggled with fumbles, Johnson’s spot on the field and role on the team will be determined by his ball security this year. He, too, has felt an added sense of assurance around Coach Odom.

“We can feel it’s a different kind of change; he’s gotten more comfortable,” Johnson said.

After a 4-8 season that featured just two wins within the conference, the stability that has flowed through the team has brought on confidence for Johnson and his teammates. It’s done the same for the coaching staff. Cross talked about the confidence that Coach Odom has instilled with spirit, seeming as though he had to hold in excitement.

“It’s a quiet confidence, you know?” he began. “Until we get out on the field, ‘til we get a chance to win some of these games and get started … we’re confident. We still have a few things to work out, but we’re confident as far as where we’re headed this season by his direction for sure.”

Confidence can be easy to come by before any games have been played. But for the Tigers, it’s not a confidence that’s been brought about by hype or by arrogance. Instead, it’s a belief that has been delivered by a coach who has simply settled into his job.

Edited by Joe Noser | Jnoser@themaneater.com

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