We know, eventually, that Arkansas football’s charmed run of having two top notch coordinators must come to an end. When Sam Pittman brought Barry Odom to lead the defense and Kendal Briles to call the shots on offense, it seemed unlikely that both coordinators would last for long. Either the Razorbacks would flounder under Pittman’s leadership, and one or both would be fired within two seasons, or if – surprise, surprise – the Razorbacks actually succeeded under Pittman, one or both would leave for greener pastures.
Somehow, the best case scenario has happened: the Arkansas football program has both done about as well as imaginable within the first two seasons of the Pittman era and his star coordinators have decided to stick around for a third straight year. Both coordinators have turned down numerous high-profile programs to stay in Fayetteville – which shows that under Pittman the program is turning into a destination as opposed to a launching pad for coaches either looking for their first head coaching job (like Briles) or seeking to re-establish their bona fides before a return to the head coaching ranks (like Odom).
Still, elite destinations can also have revolving doors when it comes to coordinators. Look no further than Alabama, and the way it has cycled through coordinators who rarely stay more than two seasons since Kirby Smart left to take over Georgia in 2016. In fact, in a five-year stretch after that point Nick Saban enjoyed both coordinators returning for consecutive seasons only twice.
Being elite doesn’t prevent high turnover. Being likeable and elite, though, is another story. Pittman, by all accounts, has proven to be a good boss. He and Odom not only respect each other, they appear to genuinely enjoy each other (not every head coach and defensive coordinator go on frequent walks together). “I really like working for Coach Pittman,” Odom said at a recent press conference. “Not only do I think he’s a terrific leader, he’s a great leader of men. He’s a great representative of our program. I’m always going to be very selective.”
When it comes to building depth in a relationship, it also matters that Pittman has been able to lean on Odom during his first seasons as head Hog.
As Missouri’s head coach, Odom had been where Pittman is now. That kind of experience has made him an invaluable contributor to the Arkansas football staff, just as other programs are now benefiting from former Power 5 head coaches who are in what some consider “rebound” jobs: Manny Diaz (Penn State DC), Derek Mason (Oklahoma State DC) Major Applewhite (South Alabama OC) and Al Golden, who had spent the last two years coaching for the Cincinnati Bengals, one of the favorite NFL picks, before returning to college as Notre Dame’s defensive coordinator.
Pushing Barry Odom as Head Coach
Still, Odom has proven irresistible to some national pundits who feel he’s ready to leave Fayetteville. Such analysts, like Carl Reed of CBS Sports and 247Sports, appear eager to see Odom move on from the Razorbacks.
“I think that Barry Odom is ready again to be a head coach and I do think he’ll be at the top of a lot of people’s wishes,” Reed said on CBS Sports’ “The Block” earlier this month.
Perhaps outside of the year after he was fired, Odom has been “ready” to be a head coach as far as back as 2016, when he first took over at his alma mater in Columbia, Mo. The insinuation in Reed’s segment titled “Arkansas D.C. Barry Odom is ready to be a head coach again” is that Odom should consider this a good time to leave the Razorbacks.
“His experience under Sam Pittman at Arkansas is going to put him in a different position in the hiring cycle,” Reed said. “He now has that full SEC recruiting plan moving forward that maybe they didn’t have at the University of Missouri. He’s proven to be lead on the defensive side of the ball, and I think that we see him get an opportunity again here soon….”
The same sentiment comes through in a 247Sports list, compiled by Riley Gates, entitled “College football assistants who will soon be head coaches.” Odom makes the cut.
While Odom does seem destined for returning to the head coaching ranks at some point of the future, these analysts presume too much by essentially assuming it will or should happen at the end of this season. They don’t appear to have dug much into the specifics of Odom’s situation.
“I’m really excited to be at the same place for three years in a row. That’s hard to do anymore in these times,” he said. “Also with that, my family loves it here. I’ve got a son that’s going to be a senior in high school, a son that will be a sophomore and a daughter that is a rising second-grader, and she’s full of energy. My wife enjoys it. They’re healthy, and they’re happy.”
“I don’t need to go take another job for my ego. I don’t need that. I think anything that a student athlete wants to accomplish, we’re going to get accomplished here.”
Uprooting family is no small thing, especially in a situation where that would mean ripping teens away from their school teams (as it would for both JT and Garyt Odom, the latter of whom has an Arkansas football offer). Even Chad Morris didn’t want to disrupt his family’s life in Dallas by moving his son Chandler Morris to Fayetteville ahead of Chandler’s senior year. A lot of Razorback fans disliked that decision but the desire to maintain continuity in a similar situation with another coach may now come to serve Arkansas.
Plus, Odom now makes $1.85 million a year, so money clearly isn’t an issue.
If Odom were desperate to again prove himself as a head coach, he would already be gone by now. It’s likely, however, he simply didn’t want to mess with the level of program for that would have mean leaving. Consider that among the 30 open jobs last season, these were the former head coaches hired back as head coaches: Joe Moorhead (Akron), Mike MacIntyre (FIU), Jeff Tedford (Fresno), Clay Helton (Georgia Southern), Jerry Kill (New Mexico State), Jim Mora (UConn) and Don Brown (UMass).
Small-Time Programs vs Arkansas Football
Why would anybody in their right mind leave a situation as good as Arkansas’ – and cause the upheaval of relocating football-playing teens – for one of the above mentioned schools?
In short, Odom has already shown he’s highly selective because he knows he has a good thing going in Fayetteville. That’s something Carl Reed did pick up on, saying “Because he does have such a great job as the D coordinator to Arkansas, he can be somewhat selective on the opportunities that he looks at.”
You can throw that “somewhat” part out, though.
Odom can absolutely be highly selective. Heading into Year 3, he and his family have found in Fayetteville a life that checks off so many boxes. “I’m in a really good spot, and that means something to me,” he said a few days ago. “I feel really, really strongly about the University of Arkansas and our football program.”
This is far from the first time Odom has publicly emphasized these things. Instead of passing over his comments as glib coach-speak, commentators like Carl Reed would do well to look deeper into why Odom feels this way.
They may just find that the reasons he’s signed up for Year 3 will just as likely keep him around for a Year 4, too.
More from Barry Odom on Arkansas
In last week’s press conference, Odom shined more light on why he stayed in Arkansas going on three years. “I think I’ve talked about this a number of times, and really my thoughts haven’t changed. I love it here. I love the state of Arkansas,” he said.
“This university means something to me. I think it’s important when you start into having an opportunity to build this when we did with Coach Pittman. There’s value in that to me personally. I think it fits me here. I think we’ve got tremendous athletic director support. I think we’ve got great leadership.”
“I don’t need to go take a job just to say I’m going to take another one,” he added. “I’m happy with where I’m at. I love coaching the defense. I really like our staff. It’s fun to come to work everyday. I think we’re building something that is going to be sustainable for a long, long time, and I’m glad that I’ve got a chance to be a part of that. I think that we’re just scratching the surface of things that we’re going to get done on defense and program-wise.”
Plus, he would like to see his current players keep developing. “I feel indebted to my players. I feel responsible for their development. I feel responsible for them to graduate from college and to give them a consistent driving force of what a mentor is supposed to be.”
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