Las Vegas, America. Not Nevada, mind you. America. Outside of Los Angeles, Washington D.C. and New York, Vegas is perhaps the most popular and well-known city in the United States. The Rat Pack and the mob once ruled it in front of and behind the scenes. The cigar smoke-filled, bourbon-soaked lounges, now quite literally images of physical death, were unadulterated temptation. Vegas didn’t just provide escape, it provided an opportunity for a new life.
More fortunes, however, are lost on the Strip than gained. Barry Odom and Bobby Petrino are trying to buck the trend.
Odom, the former Arkansas defensive coordinator, is a sharp guy. Surely, he had a feeling his best days in Fayetteville had passed. The Razorbacks dropped 50ish spots in key defensive rankings from 2021 to 2022. With head coaching experience already on his resume, teams from throughout the so-called Group of Five came knocking last year. Arkansas made Odom the third highest paid coordinator in the country to ward off potential suitors. The drop in quality (for whatever reason one wants to assign – Odom’s schemes, player injuries, loss of talent from the previous; it doesn’t matter) year over year, though, meant another season in the Boston Mountains that didn’t result in a hefty bounceback would likely lead to the unemployment line.
Petrino’s Resurrection Tour continues with a stop in the desert, too. Odom hired the former Arkansas (and Missouri State and Western Kentucky and the Atlanta Falcons and Louisville – twice) head coach as his offensive coordinator in a move made official midweek. Razorback football fans, of course, will always recall his time in Fayetteville as the most significant. They’ll also recall it with mixed emotions, for the most part, given the manner of his exit and resulting exodus.
So, off they go. Westward ho. Like the Donner party.
If you’re an Arkansas fan, that Odd Couple pairing is actually a blessing of sorts. As class as Odom was, the writing had been on the wall from just about the word ‘go’ in the 2022 season. Jalen Catalon’s season-ending injury in the first game was the spark that created the fire.
A look at Arkansas’ defensive depth chart in mid December suggests little that 2023 would be much, if any, better. His career trajectory would have taken another hit, but instead, he gets to leave in a valley instead of a pit and Hogs fans can continue to thank him like a soldier, “for your service,” instead of destroying the man when things go awry next fall. (Kendal Briles isn’t so lucky, although it does matter he gets KJ Jefferson back for another season.)
Offensive Coordinator Bobby Petrino
Odom bringing Petrino on the escapade is perhaps even better for the Razorbacks’ future. Petrino was, reportedly, in talks to take over play-calling duties in the SEC at Texas A&M. Whether Head Coach Bobby Petrino ever works again at the FBS level, most are quick to figure Offensive Coordinator Bobby Petrino works quite well at college football’s highest level.
If those prognostications are correct, then it means not only does Arkansas get to avoid the “Remember the wreck?” story angles every single year for the life of the would-be contract at Texas A&M, but the program can also eschew, well, simply having to try to defend a Bobby Petrino offense that is loaded with individual talent. Remember, Texas A&M, for as bad as the Aggies were last year and as bad as they’ve failed to live up to expectations for most of the last decade-plus, are still one college football’s most attractive destinations for high school players. The Aggies can recruit.
As to whether Petrino and Jimbo Fisher would have been able to co-exist, who knows. Seems unlikely given their personalities. But imagine what Petrino could have done with a Lamar Jackson or a Ryan Mallett in College Station, Texas. Quarterback has been the A-1 position of need for Texas A&M for the last 10 years. The list of signal-callers since Johnny Manziel 2013?
- Kenny Hill
- Kyle Allen
- Trevor Knight
- Nick Starkel
- Kellen Mond
- Zach Calzada
- Haynes King
Woof. A whole bunch of “He’s OK, I guess.” Or, in other words, no one near good enough as most of the rest of the talent on the roster, nevermind good enough to truly compete for an SEC West crown.
Thanks, Barry Odom
Arkansas has enough problems of its own to worry about. Almost nothing good came from Sam Pittman’s press conference on Friday. The Razorbacks have lost many of their starters from the season finale against Missouri. It’s going to feel like KJ Jefferson, Rocket Sanders and, uh, who else is around?
Of course, the outcome of the Liberty Bowl against Kansas later in December is irrelevant. Bowl games outside of the College Football Playoff are irrelevant except as a means to helping a coach get extra practices for his players. And, frankly, that’s especially important now, in the age of the transfer portal.
Odom did his old boss a favor, accordingly. UNLV football has had just one season above .500 in the 21st century. The odds the Runnin’ Rebels, and their three-ever bowl appearances, suddenly turn into a powerhouse is nil. That means it’s probably going to take longer for Odom and Petrino to turn UNLV into a semi-relevant team on the field.
The two certainly can, but the longer it takes, the longer Arkansas gets to avoid catching up with its old buddy Bobby. And the longer that takes, the longer the Razorbacks can continue to pretend they have a shot in the SEC.
More coverage of Arkansas football from BoAS…