COLUMBIA — Sometime on Friday, either before, during or after Missouri's win against Arkansas, Missouri athletic director Jim Sterk made the decision to fire head football coach Barry Odom after four seasons.
Missouri hadn't fired a football coach since Larry Smith following the 2000 season, and enjoyed 15 years of the program's best success in its history — including five division titles, two in the Southeastern Conference — under Gary Pinkel.
In Sterk's 24 years as an AD he had previously fired one football coach, Washington State's Bill Doba, and it's the first time in program history Missouri has ever fired a head football coach after a .500 or better season. Friday's win cemented a .500 record or better in years 2-4 for Odom.
So how did we get here?
In many ways, the fact Odom's 25-25 record was not good enough can largely be attributed to Pinkel, who changed the national conception of what was possible in Columbia, without drastically changing the recruiting profile. Pinkel — and the staffs he hired, which included Odom — were good at identifying overlooked talent from Youngstown, Ohio, to Hayti, Missouri, to Jasper and Irving, Texas, and developing them.
That success, plus the student protest against racism at Missouri in 2015 that was endorsed by football players and led to the firing of university president Tim Wolfe, made options limited for then-AD Mack Rhoades. Rhoades — who left for Baylor after 15 months — did not have the most attractive job vacancy on his hands when he promoted Odom from defensive coordinator to head coach.
Sterk's arrival, and the nearly $100-million south end zone facility that broke ground in 2018 and was completed this summer, added pressure to a unique situation that became even more untenable after the Tigers slumped to a 6-6 finish after starting 5-1.
Odom completed the first and most difficult steps of the rebuild — the program was not in great shape when Pinkel stepped down to fight non-Hodgkin's lymphoma — by stabilizing things on the field and with in-state recruiting, but even an 8-5 record last season and the NCAA sanctions this season were not enough, in the eyes of Sterk, chancellor Alexander Cartwright and president Mun Choi, to keep him around.
Odom's tenure was a frustrating one for fans. He won more games at Missouri in his first four seasons than anyone since Warren Powers, but what will likely stick in the minds of fans are the losses, the ones that got away that could have given Odom the title himself: 51-45 to Middle Tennessee in Year One on Homecoming; 35-3 at home to Purdue and 40-34 at Kentucky in Year Two; 37-35 at South Carolina and 15-14 to Kentucky in Year Three; and the losses to Wyoming, Vanderbilt and Kentucky this year.
The Tigers had three winning streaks of four or more games in four years, and three losing streaks of four or more games. Odom's teams were 4-23 against FBS teams that finished the season, including bowls, better than .500, with wins in 2016 against Eastern Michigan and Arkansas, and in 2018 against Memphis and Florida. The win against the Gators in Gainesville was Odom's only win against a ranked opponent.
When Sterk elected to fire Odom, there were four Power-Five head-coaching vacancies: Arkansas, Florida State, Missouri and Rutgers. After initially backing off, the Scarlet Knights hired former head coach and former Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano.
Since Saturday morning, Boston College has fired Steve Addazio and Mississippi fired Matt Luke, who was in a similar situation to Odom, albeit in three years, one of which came with the tag of interim head coach. Luke went 15-21 in those three seasons, going from 6-6 to 4-8, was 6-18 in the SEC and never coached the Rebels to a finish better than sixth in the SEC West.
Sterk did not say as much in his press conference Saturday, but if he believed this would be a quiet offseason for coaching changes, Missouri is well-positioned to take advantage. Florida State is clearly a better job, and Arkansas and Mississippi are about on the same tier: more spending and more rabid fan support, but also in a much more difficult division that requires games against Alabama and an ascendant LSU every year.
Missouri, and Sterk, believe the program is a top-tier destination for college football. But it also means Sterk has tied himself to the result of the program's current search, and the results of the next few years.
On Sunday morning via Twitter, redshirt junior defensive tackle Jordan Elliott announced he will forego his final year of eligibility and declare for the NFL draft.
"It has been an amazing three years at Missouri," Elliott said on Twitter. "I want to thank God for blessing me with this opportunity, my family for supporting and guiding me, my teammates for pushing me and continuously holding me accountable, Coach Odom, Coach (Brick) Haley and the staff for molding me and teaching me the lessons that I will take with me for the rest of my life. Thank you all for helping me grow as a man and as a player. I am ready for the next chapter in my life and will be declaring for the NFL Draft, foregoing my final season of eligibility."
Elliott led the team in sacks (2.5) and tackles for loss (10) this season, was fifth on the team in total tackles (39) and blocked a field goal against Tennessee.
While the numbers may appear low, the 6-foot-4, 315-pound interior lineman, who transferred from Texas, often demanded double-teams up front, and was given Pro Football Focus' highest grade (91.5) among interior defensive linemen with at least 250 snaps played this season. PFF grades every player's snaps in game, grades each snap on a scale from minus-2 (game-defining plays that hurt the team's chances of winning) and plus-2 (game-changing plays that help the team win) and normalizes those grades on a proprietary scale.
Sophomore linebacker Nick Bolton was similarly graded by PFF as college football's best linebacker this season, with a season-long grade of 91.3.
Missouri also had two players de-commit and one step back from signing in December with the news of Odom's firing.
Robert Wooten, a three-star defensive end from Stafford, Texas, and Jalen St. John, a four-star offensive lineman from St. Louis' Trinity Catholic, both announced de-commitments this weekend.
"Due to coaching changes I'll be decommitting from mizzou (sic)," Wooten tweeted. "I loved coach odom (sic) and everything he was about."
"After talks with my family about the coaching changes I will be De-Committing (sic) from The University of Missouri and opening my recruitment back up!" St. John said on Twitter. "I will be takin my time with the process and takin the rest of my (four official visits) and I will be Committing (sic) on Signing Day Feb. 5th!"
Four-star wide receiver Javian Hester, of Tulsa, Okla., said on Twitter he would no longer sign in the Dec. 18-20 early signing period and re-opened his recruitment, though he remained committed to Missouri. The Tigers currently have 15 players committed in the 2020 signing class.