COLUMBIA — Jim Sterk gave Barry Odom almost exactly four years.
The former Missouri linebacker was hired by Sterk's predecessor, Mack Rhoades, on Dec. 3, 2015, as the head coach of his alma mater, and relieved of those duties on Nov. 30, 2019.
"This decision was not an easy one, but necessary and supported by chancellor (Alexander) Cartwright and president (Mun) Choi," Sterk said in a press conference Saturday afternoon.
Odom finished 25-25 in four full seasons at Missouri, 13-19 against Southeastern Conference opponents and 0-2 in bowl games. Sterk thanked Odom for his contributions, and players past, present and future have been voicing their support for a man who played at Missouri from 1996-99 and was on staff from 2003-11 before coaching at Memphis and then returning to Missouri in 2015 to take the defensive coordinator position.
Players had dispersed and some went home after Friday's season finale, a 24-14 win against Arkansas, and were informed Odom was being fired via a telephone call per Odom's suggestion, according to Sterk. Missouri named defensive line and senior associate head coach Brick Haley as interim head coach, and all assistants have been retained until a new head coach has been appointed, who may then keep or release those assistants.
Sterk said in the interest of expediency and speed, the search committee would be a small one. He confirmed Missouri retained the services of Parker Executive Search, a firm Missouri also used to hire men's basketball coach Cuonzo Martin. Sterk is well-known in AD circles for moving quickly and quietly with coaching searches, which fits with his first major hire and he hopes will be the case here, too.
The move is a bold one on Sterk's part, as he is now tasked with finding someone who can perform as well or better than Odom, and doing so ideally before the Dec. 18-20 football early signing period that has become so crucial in defining the rosters of Power-Five teams nationally.
"As a program, we had tremendous momentum heading into 2019 with the opening of our south end zone project, as well as other strategic investments into the program," Sterk said, echoing comments made in the program's release confirming Odom's firing Saturday morning. "We lost a great deal of energy over the last half of the season, which causes great concern as we look to the future. Mizzou is a great place, it's an outstanding job, and we have necessary resources for this program to to be successful at the highest level.
"I felt we lost the momentum of the program and that it would be difficult for us, under his leadership, to continue to move it forward."
Sterk said he felt Missouri has shown, with past success and investment in football, it has the resources to be a consistent top 25 team. The Tigers were ranked No. 24 in December 2018, and ranked for one week this season, at No. 22, after defeating Mississippi 38-27 at home.
Sterk has only fired one other football coach in his 24 years as an athletic director, Washington State's Bill Doba, who was 30-29 overall and 17-25 in the Pac-10 in five seasons from 2003-07. After winning 10 games in his opening season, Doba never won more than six games in a season and the Cougars were not invited to another bowl game.
Sterk said the decision was made "in the last 24 to 48 hours," and that no one game or individual loss spurred his decision. He was reluctant to clarify if he and the leaders in the academic wing of the university had made their decision before the Tigers beat the Razorbacks on Black Friday in Little Rock, Ark.
He also said he would not be available to media during the search, but outlined what he is looking for in the next head coach of the Missouri football team. Sterk said he would consider candidates with legitimate interest, not someone "trying to leverage it for a better contract," and said he would consider candidates with previous head coaching experience and/or coordinator experience "at a high level." He called experience running a program, "not an absolute criteria, but something that would be very helpful."
There are a number of coaches likely looking to move up from Group of 5 head coaching jobs, including Memphis' Mike Norvell, Boise State's Bryan Harsin, Louisiana Tech's Skip Holtz, Louisiana's Billy Napier and Tulane's Willy Fritz. Missouri is one of four Power-Five coaching jobs currently open, and arguably the second-best, along with Florida State, Arkansas and Rutgers.
Pay is also something Missouri has to consider carefully, as the purse strings are a little tighter and wallets a little less deep than at other SEC programs. Odom, who agreed to a five-year contract in January of this year, will receive a buyout of $2.85 million ($450,000 for each year left on his contract plus $150,000 in deferred compensation for each year he was head coach), less than his guaranteed compensation for this season of $3.05 million, tied with Mississippi State's Joe Moorhead for the lowest paid head coaching contracts in the SEC.
Odom and Moorhead did not have previous head coaching experience.
"I think that the salary (is) commensurate with experience, and if we can go out and hire someone with a lot of experience, then we're going to look at that," Sterk said. "We're going to look at coaches that have been successful, so there'll be a range, if you will, of what we're going to pay for someone. That's the support I have from president Choi, the Board (of Curators) and chancellor Cartwright."
Missouri could also be on the hook for up to almost $9 million if none of the assistant coaches are retained and if they aren't immediately employed elsewhere. Sterk said he estimated it would be "a third of that, at best."
Sterk also reiterated the athletic department is not dependent on the university to subsidize its operations or expenses, and that the university would loan the athletic department money to cover any budgetary gaps in a fashion similar to the loan the university provided when Missouri left the Big 12 for the SEC.
Sterk is not an unbiased party, but he seemed optimistic about the still-young hiring search and the future of the program, a feeling he wants the next head coach to engender in a fan base that has grown somewhat apathetic after years of success under Gary Pinkel followed by a slow decline that Odom was brought in to reverse.
"One, I really appreciate (Odom's) dedication to the university, and to our student-athletes," Sterk said. "But we're moving forward to really continue to move the program forward and I'm excited about the future of Mizzou football. We're, in a short time, we'll have someone here and be introducing that person to this group, and I think people will get excited about what we're doing moving forward."
Whoever's next, Sterk needs him to win. Odom finished with a career .500 mark, and with 12 guaranteed games in a season, a break-even record leaves as much room for further decline as it does for improvement.