As Mack Rhoades flees, Barry Odom and Mizzou try to keep focus on football at SEC Media Days

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It’s been a long time since I wrote anything Missouri related. The state of the two big athletic programs has been a factor. From Kim Anderson fulfilling my promise that his hiring = Missouri no longer cares about basketball, because SEC (he’s won 19 games in two years) to Mizzou’s offensive offense and its second to last ranking out of 128 teams and failure to qualify for a bowl game – it’s been a rough year. But that’s not even the half of it.

A boycott by the football team in November related to racial tensions on campus, helped speed up the resignation of the university system president and the reassignment of chancellor. Head coach Gary Pinkel announced his sudden retirement and his fight with lymphoma. Quarterback Maty Mauk was suspended, reinstated and then dismissed. There were the major NCAA infractions case into the basketball team, which included a self-imposed 2015-16 postseason ban and a loss of scholarships. In addition, there’s a current Title IX investigation into allegations of verbal abuse by softball coach Ehren Earleywhine, which prompted some players to release a statement that they were playing a game under protest.

Have yourself a turmulolous year.

Fourteen months after his hiring to replace Alden, Mack Rhoades announced that, that he is moving on to Baylor to take the same position.

BAYLOR!

What does this say about Missouri that they’re able to lure away Missouri’s AD? That was my first question and others – Mizzou fans and outsiders alike – are going to also think this is a sign of what he thinks of Missouri and where it’s headed. But, maybe, we should question what this says about Rhoades?

Yes, it was hectic year in the Missouri athletic department. He had nothing to do with the protests and boycott, he didn’t hire Anderson, he force Pinkel to retire. But, he certainly didn’t do anything to make matters better. Just ask the baseball and softball teams:

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There were also rumors for a few months now that he was trying to get out. It was also speculated that this was always going to be a temporary stop for Rhoades, who would spurn Mizzou for the first chance to go back to Texas.

We saw that Wednesday, bolting at the first opportunity, leaving behind disarray, a stalled stadium expansion project and more questions than answers.

It’s not shocking that he left with everything that has happened, in addition to the lacking of leadership (Missouri still hasn’t named a chancellor or president), but it is SHOCKING that he left for Baylor, who is under investigation for allegation of covering up sexual assault/rape allegations in the football program. WOW.

Dude turned his back on Mizzou, where he said he was “all in” 14 months ago. Sure, things change, but BAYLOR?

“This was a difficult decision for me to make,” Rhoades said in a release. “But, it is one that I feel is in my best interest of my family.”

Maybe he was never fully comfortable at Missouri; we’ll probably never know. There were plenty at Missouri that felt he wasn’t the right guy and were never fully behind him.

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What will Missouri do now?

Wren Baker has been promoted to the title of interim Director of Athletics and, along with the Board of Curators and Interim President, will oversee the recruitment of a replacement. But, until there’s a chancellor and a president, it’s hard to imagine that an AD will be hired until leadership is in place.

Baker is probably a candidate for the position, but who else? PowerMizzou.com’s

Gabe DeArmond listed:

  • Whit Babcock (Virginia Tech AD)
  • Mark Alnutt (Memphis Associate AD)
  • Jon Sunvold

Babcock and Alnutt are part of the Mike Alden tree that moved on for promotions. And any Missouri fan knows Sunvold, the True Son.

Stay tuned.

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Speaking of true sons, minutes after news of the Rhoades departure broke here, his first hire, Barry Odom, was taking the podium at SEC Media Days in Hoover, Alabama.

“I don’t know, maybe I haven’t been there long enough,” Odom said. “I’m not worried about it, about the football program and my situation. I’m very confident in the job that I’m going to do and our football staff.”

“Mack and I got together last night and had long discussions. I talked earlier about having opportunities. And, you know, he’s got an opportunity that he thought was best for him, and I know that I’m very, very excited about the University of Missouri. I’m excited about what I’ve got in place from my staff from a football program standpoint.”

He continued: “Mizzou is a special place and has been a really great place for a long time. And the future for our program and our university is really bright. You know, we need someone in that role that is looking forward to having a great vision on taking us to a new level of success.”

He tried to keep the focus on football.

“There’s a few things you’re going to remember for a lifetime,” he said about being hired.

There’s a lot of pressure being a college head football coach. The challenge is even greater when you’re replacing a man that’ll have a statue. The youngest Power 5 coach is excited for the challenge of replacing Gary Pinkel – excited for the “New Era.”

“At the end of the day, where you graduate college from is always going to have a special place in your heart,” Odom said. “Missouri is an unbelievably tremendous state. The people of Missouri are the best and I look forward to representing them.

“I’m tremendously honored to have this opportunity. It’s something I’ve thought about for a long time as I’ve made my various stops leading up to this point. I understand the responsibility we have to not only carry on the tradition of excellence that Gary Pinkel has built here, but also to help this program reach new heights.”

He continued.

“It’s a unique situation with Coach, he and I having a relationship that we do, he still being in Columbia,” said Odom, the former Mizzou linebacker who graduated as the No. 2 all-time tackler and served under Pinkel in various roles in two different stints, including Defensive Coordinator in 2015. “I have such great respect for him. But also, on the other side of that, he wants to help when he can, how he can, but he also said a number of times: I need to give you some space. And I respect that.
“And, you know, I know that I’m not afraid to pick up the phone and call him. He’s always welcome and he’s done a great deal for that university and our football program and for college football.”

Of course, he was asked about Kansas.

“Just geographically, that rivalry over the years, hundreds of years, became a great one. It’s something for me being a former student-athlete you always look forward to that. And coaching in the game was something in the year 2007 when both teams were highly ranked. And it’s an atmosphere that our student-athletes, if you ask any of them, that was part of the team during that time, that’s one of their greatest memories.
“I think it’s important that we look to build experiences for student-athletes that they have a chance to play in a game like that, a rivalry game like that, that really means something that they can carry with them forever.
“Obviously the scheduling is done so many years out. There’s always got to be some communication. If I get a vote, I know which way I’ll vote. And look forward to hopefully someday that game getting back on schedule.”

Also representing Missouri was junior defensive end Charles Harris and seniors Sean Culkin (TE) and Michael Scherer (LB). What did they say?

Culkin:

  • “It’s a cool platform to represent the University of Missouri here and a privilege to sit here and do that.”
  • “We definitely had a lot of adversity the last year. I think it does nothing but give you the opportunity to be a better team and to come closer. When last year was going on, obviously my teammates are brothers to me it’s a family so when they stand up for something like that we all have each other’s backs … At the end of the day, in our facilities, in the locker room, we are very close. Even what’s going on with the AD nothing is going to change, we’re going to stick together.”

Harris

  • “I have been hearing about (Rhoades leaving) the entire time I have been at Media Days. The team will address the things that happen at Mizzou when we get back. Right now I am here to focus on Media Days, the University of Missouri and my teammates.”
  • “Coach Pinkel was there since my freshman year and Coach Odom taking over was pretty smooth. There has not been that much of a difference. He has been coaching us as who we are, as individuals and as a team. Our identities are still there we just have some position changes.”
  • “When we have freshman coming in we show them a clinic tape of Michael Sam and Marcus Golden. We show them guys who came before us and sowed the seed of who we are. If you watch the highlights you will get a feel of the tenacity that is required to be at Mizzou and be in the defensive line. We’re looking to dominate again this year.”

Scherer

  • “I think the main difference you see is Coach Pinkel kind of interacted with the coaches and coached them how to coach us. He was quiet when it came to practice and other things. Coach Odom is a very passionate guy. He’s been coaching on the field for a very long time and he can’t get over not still doing that. You’ll see him running around the practice field at different positions, different group coaching. He’s very involved when the time comes when it’s needed. He is just a very passionate guy and you can see it on the practice field every day. Obviously going through change there is a lot of comfort there for me. I knew him very well; we’ve developed a great relationship. I know what he expects of me, and I kind of know what he expects from this team this year, just from being in the same room with him so much and having so many conversations with him. It’s less of a change for me.”
  • “Kentrell (Brothers) and I had an awesome relationship. The way we were able to click on the field, that is something that we worked very, very hard at and developed over time. And that made us respect each other even more. We put in all those hours together and showed it on the field. Apart from everything, he’s obviously a great linebacker, a great player. He has upped the reputation of being a Missouri linebacker. All those older guys, we all kind of talked to each other and I have had many conversations with those guys over the years. I think it’s definitely a bigger deal now to be a Missouri linebacker. I am trying to keep on carrying that torch and taking it to the next level.”
  • “I am pretty confident in my abilities. I think the thing for me is staying healthy. I don’t mean healthy in a big sense, I mean healthy in a small sense like the little things that happen every week. They can be tough and they can wear on your during a season. So I think in this offseason-training, I’ve been doing a lot of things to help take on those burdens that you get in a 13-14 game season. I think if I am healthy and if I’m playing to the best of my ability this year, everything is going to take care of itself.”

After the disappointing 2015 season, it will be no small task in making Missouri contenders again. Can Barry Odom do it? Most say no. But, Missouri has been written off before. Then, they went to consecutive SEC Championship Games.

On paper, Missouri will have the chance to compete and the very much up for grabs SEC East. They return eight starts and another who missed the season due to injury to a defense that ranked behind only Alabama and was Top 10 nationally

“I love experience coming back,” Odom said. “But it’s our job, as coaches – they got to play better than they did last year. And that’s a tremendous responsibility and opportunity for us to be a really good football team.” Offensively, Missouri ranked 127th out of 128 FBS teams. Despite that, Missouri could have EASILY qualified for a bowl last year. I know Buddy Bell once said never say it can’t get worse, because it can, but it’ll be really hard to be worse. If the offense even shows a pulse, they’ll go bowling.

Missouri opens the season Sept. 3 at West Virginia, 11 am on FS1.

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