- Sam Khan, Texas A&M/SEC reporter
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Barry Odom is Mizzou through and through. He played there. He began his college coaching career there. After spending three successful seasons in Memphis, he returned there in December.
Dave Steckel guided the Missouri defense the past six seasons, but after taking the head coaching job at Missouri State, Tigers’ head coach Gary Pinkel tapped Odom, 38, who had long been part of the Mizzou family to succeed "Stec" as defensive coordinator. For Odom, the opportunity to return to Columbia, Missouri, made sense having played there from 1996-99 and coaching with the Tigers in various roles from 2003-11 while working his way up the ladder.
"Knowing the situation here and what Coach Pinkel consistently does with his program, the way that he works day-to-day structurally, the consistency of how he approaches every day, I knew the work environment and you want to go to work for somebody that you trust," Odom said. "I obviously have a great deal of trust in him. I knew the situation with two of the coaches that were on the defensive staff and looked forward to working with them. There was an environment set over a number of years of work that provided the ability to go in and be successful."
The Tigers are coming off a solid defensive year. In 2014 they were in the top 25 in scoring defense (21.1 points allowed per game, 19th in the nation), yards per game allowed (346.6, 23rd), yards per play (4.83, 16th), yards per carry (3.52, 25th) and yards per pass attempt (6.3, 18th). Odom’s task is to build on that success. Considering the job he did in Memphis, where it ranked 117th nationally in total defense prior to his arrival and finished 27th in 2014 -- Odom’s third and final season there -- he knows what it takes to have a successful defense.
"The discipline that he had, he has tremendous knowledge of the total package on defense," Pinkel said. "I think the thing that stood out are the stats they had, especially the last year and the things they were doing and the great improvement they made. Again, none of that surprised me ... He's very well respected. He could have went to at least a half-dozen other places. We're fortunate to have him."
As Missouri enters its final days of spring practice (the Tigers’ annual spring game is Saturday) the transition to Odom as defensive coordinator has been smooth. Pinkel noted that rather than bringing the terminology he used at Memphis with him, Odom is using the terminology Missouri has long used on defense to make it an easier adjustment for players and coaches.
"That's a great statement about him, 'It's not about me, it's about making this thing work,'" Pinkel said. "His attention to detail, demanding but not demeaning attitude, it permeates throughout the whole defense."
Shane Ray and Markus Golden might be gone, but there’s sufficient talent remaining on the roster. Odom’s group, linebacker, is filled with veteran returners, led by Kentrell Brothers and Michael Scherer. They have a veteran secondary with cornerbacks Kenya Dennis and Aarion Penton and safety Ian Simon. Though they are thin on returning starters on the defensive line, (defensive tackle Harold Brantley is the only returner who started significant time last season), there are plenty of guys with game experience, including Ray's and Golden’s possible successors at defensive end, Charles Harris and Marcus Loud. Of course, considering Mizzou’s track record of success at defensive line under position coach Craig Kuligowski, there is reason to believe the Tigers will continue to produce from that spot.
"Kul has done a great job as he has every year developing guys," Odom said. "Fundamentally they're playing at a high level. He's got a group athletically that is continuing to work. He's going to get them turned into the type we need up front."
Pinkel feels good about where the defense is under Odom, given the amount of experienced players returning.
"There's a lot of experienced guys on that field, even though we lost some starters and some good players," Pinkel said. "Almost every player on our defense has played a significant amount or started, so we're certainly going the right direction, we just have to keep getting better."
Odom is simply focused on getting the defense better every day. As the Tigers close out spring ball this weekend, he’s confident his players will take care of business accordingly in the summer to be an improved unit come August.
"We've enjoyed working and building it together, and there's a lot of carryover on what's been done here the last few years," Odom said. "Steck did an unbelievable job and the guys that were here defensively have been pretty darn good the last couple of years. [We’re] trying to build on that and piecing the new faces at different positions, putting them in the right positions and every day trying to get our guys to play better than they did the day before."
Mizzou opened some eyes nationally while Odom was cutting his teeth as a coordinator at Memphis, winning back-to-back SEC East titles. To be back at his alma mater with a chance to help shape the program’s future is an opportunity Odom is grateful for.
"Coming back to Columbia, you can tell even in three years time that things have changed and grown a little bit," Odom said. "The branding of the SEC is strong. You see it everywhere. Everybody's proud to represent Mizzou. You understand the responsibility that comes with this job and this position, the opportunity to help coach and to help this program and this university and represent ourselves on a national level, it's something you work every day for."
Defensive coordinator relishes chance to coach former team after three seasons at Memphis.