COLUMBIA, Mo. – Three days away from the start of spring football practice, coach Barry Odom faces the same conundrum that has confronted him since Jan. 31.
That’s the day the NCAA handed down sanctions for the actions of a rogue tutor in 2015-16. Those sanctions included a postseason ban, and with the postseason ban came a caveat that Missouri football’s seniors could transfer out and play somewhere else without having to sit out a year.
No Tiger seniors have yet left. None have publicly given any intention of leaving.
Still, there’s no time for Odom to rest on his laurels.
“I anticipate at this point keeping everybody we’ve got on our roster on our roster, which would be a huge step,” Odom said during an informal meeting with reporters Wednesday afternoon. “But again, there’s daily recruiting going on with that. That’s the way it is.”
University of Missouri System Board of Curators Chairman Jon Sundvold was the first to name names on Feb. 1 when, during an appearance on WHB 810 radio in Kansas City, he dropped five schools that had reportedly contacted MU’s compliance department about recruiting MU’s players. Missouri spokesperson Nick Joos confirmed that four SEC schools had done so: Tennessee, Texas A&M, Mississippi State and Auburn.
Two weeks ago, during a Kansas City Tiger Club event, Odom aired his frustrations about teams attempting to poach his seniors. The next day he addressed his peers directly at the Southeastern Conference’s annual coaches’ meeting in Birmingham, Alabama.
Odom said the conversation went well and that he respected the way Commissioner Greg Sankey handled the meeting.
But he’s still recruiting his own players. Almost all of the sanctions that the NCAA handed down will be stayed until Missouri’s appeal reaches a conclusion later this year, but that doesn’t include the provision that would allow the Tigers’ seniors to transfer without penalty.
“That will be that way until they start classes here in September. It’s double-recruiting, triple-recruiting. You recruit guys that want to join your program, and you’re recruiting guys to stay on your team,” Odom said.
“I think we’ve got a really strong group of committed kids, I don’t doubt that one bit,” he continued. “But everybody in this room would be lying if they said they didn’t like to be told how good they are. Our guys are being told – some more than others – every day they’re being contacted by somebody selling them a picture of, wherever else is a lot better than their current situation.”
Those on the receiving end certainly includes Missouri’s new quarterback, Kelly Bryant, who was the most desirable player on the transfer market before committing to Missouri on Dec. 4.
Shortly after the sanctions were announced, Bryant told The State newspaper in South Carolina that he had no intentions of transferring from Missouri. He’s been working out in Columbia since January, and he’s already developed strong connections on the team. Odom said Tuesday that Bryant’s personality is “infectious” and he has “tremendous leadership skills.”
Odom also realizes that Missouri’s sanctions have made Bryant a hot commodity again.
“I have not relaxed one bit on Kelly Bryant going or staying,” Odom said. “His statement is great and he says he’s in and he’s in. But you also better protect your roster.”
Missouri’s assistant coaches have been targeted, for different reasons. Odom said of the 10 currently in the program, “seven had multiple opportunities to go somewhere else this offseason.”
Two of last year’s 10 have already left: outside linebackers coach Brian Odom went to Oklahoma and tight ends coach Joe Jon Finley went to Texas A&M. The Tigers also lost senior defensive analyst Ted Monachino, who is now an assistant with the Chicago Bears; offensive analyst Adam Kleffner, who is now with the Dallas Cowboys; and defensive analyst Neal Renna, who now the safeties coach at Eastern Illinois.
The coaching attrition didn’t have anything to do with NCAA sanctions, but any player movement that is to come most likely will.
There is a silver lining.
“I’ve always felt in our building and with (athletic director) Jim (Sterk), we’ve been together,” Odom said. “What I’ve seen on the outside is, from a fanbase, wanting something to rally around, and they have this.”