Column: Odom’s raise earned, but it came too soon

Odom’s extension was warranted, but with momentum heading into next season, the university should’ve waited to pay him.
Missouri football coach Barry Odom waits to lead his team onto Faurot Field before a 40-13 over Wyoming on Saturday Sept. 9, 2018 in Columbia, Mo.

Barry Odom looked like a new man in 2018. Moving forward, he’ll be paid like one.

The UM System Board of Curators voted unanimously on Wednesday to extend the Missouri football coach’s contract. The two-year extension now puts him at the helm of the program through 2024. He will have a base salary of $3.05 million, a $600,000 raise from his previous pay stub. Formerly the lowest-paid coach in the SEC, he moves up three spots on the list to 11th.

Let’s get this out of the way: The timing of this extension regarding a certain former Clemson quarterback is purely coincidental. Landing Kelly Bryant is far from the sole reason Odom is getting a raise, and the two events should not be remembered hand in hand.

Instead, let’s recap the real highlights on a long list of reasons: an improved record, a bowl invite, Odom’s first win over a ranked opponent (which came on the road), Missouri’s first appearance in the AP poll in three years and its first ever appearance in the CFB Playoff rankings.

Bryant was more of a cherry on top of it all, really, an exclamation point to a statement season. Pressure on MU administration regarding Odom shifted throughout the season from fire to fireworks. After a complex, multi-layered season, it’s not easy to strip this question down to a single layer: Was this the right decision?

It’s hard to say. After all, this Missouri team was so close to even more success. Athletic director Jim Sterk thinks so. He mentioned Sunday that this team was “a couple snaps away” from being 10-2. It’s crazy that Missouri’s season could’ve gone that well, but it’s just as crazy how close Missouri’s season was to going, well, not quite as well.

First, Missouri’s fate was in the balance on several occasions against Purdue, but it won on a walk-off in West Lafayette, Indiana. Then, failing to close out in South Carolina, Missouri lost in the same fashion it beat Purdue in. Three weeks later, it once again ended up in the loss column on another walk-off loss, this time to Kentucky.

Those aren’t exactly selling points to give any SEC coach a raise. And while those losses didn’t put Odom on an outright hot seat, the Kentucky loss definitely raised questions about the job he was doing.

Odom’s first ever win against a ranked opponent – a statement win – came against a ranked Florida team the week following Kentucky. That win was earned early and often, but Odom’s lucky it came when it did. Another loss immediately after Kentucky would’ve put the Tigers in position to top out at 7-5 on the regular season for the second year in a row, putting more pressure on Odom. This would have been a stagnant season, Odom’s first without progress record-wise.

All criticism past, 8-4 doesn’t just show up guaranteed. It’s impressive that Odom’s done what he has to this point and it’s worth acknowledging in some form or fashion. But it’s hard to say a raise was the definitive way to do it, especially considering that the program’s turnaround isn’t complete.

A bowl appearance, improved record and the team’s first ranking in three years are high marks, but – and possibly to Odom’s credit – none were considered guarantees to start the year. However, they weren’t consistent throughout a season with some extremely high highs and deep lows. This level of success cannot be what the department sees as the program’s pinnacle.

And Odom would surely agree if he read this. He insisted that MU deserved to crack the AP top 25 before it did, but he’s not afraid of accountability and has the right amount of typical coach-speak ingrained in him to acknowledge the importance of the future as opposed to the past.

Sterk said in a press release Wednesday afternoon that the football program “enjoys great momentum heading into the 2019 season.” By paying Odom, Missouri’s rewarding him for momentum.

The Tigers have gone from the bottom to the middle of the SEC under Odom. And yes, his program is on the fringe of being at the top of the conference, but being bound for even more success next season, the school should’ve waited to pay Odom.

The bar has been set for 2019. It includes all the success of 2018 and it’s likely Missouri will surpass it. That could spell a lot for the school and program – a consistent top-25 presence, more national exposure, better recruiting prospects and likely a bigger bowl game. That’s a lot more worthy of a higher pay grade than slightly better results from a season ago.

Odom has proved the last two seasons that he can coach a winning team, but come next year, he could be coaching a top tier SEC program. Missouri has a rather light and breezy schedule next season. It has a real chance at starting the season 8-0. The turnaround – going from 4-8 in year one to the top of the conference – seems it will be complete by next year’s end. If Missouri is two plays away from 10-2 in 2018, what’s not to say it’s 10-2 in 2019?

Edited by Bennett Durando |

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