For a hot minute, it looked like Barry Odom’s layover in Arkansas might come to an end after a single year.
Texas, the Razorbacks’ historic SWC rival, showed interest earlier this week in snatching the Hogs’ star defensive coordinator away. The Longhorns’ new head coach, Steve Sarkisian, wants to fill out his staff in a way that signals to current Texas players and recruits alike that Texas is serious about returning its program to national title contention.
To that end, Odom would have been a great get after Sarkisian’s first choice, Will Muschamp, said “No thanks.”
Despite the Razorback defense’s late-season struggles, Odom still improved a unit that had been laughable under his predecessor John Chavis. CBS’ Dennis Dodd, who initially reported Sarkisian’s pursuit of Odom, believes the Razorback defense even played well in its season finale against Alabama.
“I thought [Odom] did a heck of a job defensively in that game where they decided to take away the long pass, play that 33 zone in the back where they basically set a layer of three guys,” Dodd said on ESPN Arkansas’ “Halftime.” “And it did. Mac Jones had his worst game of his season and so did DaVonta Smith — but they still lost by 49.”
Barry Odom, a former Missouri head coach, is destined to return to head coaching one day. Dodd considers Texas as “clearly an upgrade for a coordinator like Barry Odom at this point in his career… in terms of money, in terms of prestige, in terms of a jumping off point, in terms of where the programs are right now.”
“Texas isn’t in the gutter, they just went seven and three. But they can’t beat Oklahoma and they haven’t won a [Big 12] championship since 2009. Those are all real world problems for Texas.”
Sure, Texas could have reached into the pockets of its oilmen and big tech boosters and raised Barry Odom’s current $1.2 million salary to beyond whatever increase he will get from the Razorbacks. And yes, the Longhorns will always have better facilities and a more fertile recruiting ground than most every other program.
But there’s a difference between prestige based on historic reputation and allure based on current status. While Texas has the former, winning four national titles that the school has claimed, the latter is clearly diminished.
That’s underlined by Odom’s apparent rejection of Sarkisian’s overtures, which the below Tweets strongly indicate:
All the good things happening in Fayetteville must play a role in why Odom turned Texas down. But so do issues in the Lone Star state.
Odom likely doesn’t want any part of Texas for similar reasons that, years ago, Nick Saban told Paul Finebaum he never considered coaching the Longhorns despite their interest in him.
“Yeah, they talked to [agent] Jimmy Sexton,” Saban said, “but in the end I didn’t want to answer to 20 fat cat oilmen who were going to tell me how to run my program.”
Fast forward to 2021 and things still haven’t changed, added Cedric Golden, Austin American-Statesmen columnist.
“They’re still running it, these high-dollar billionaire people who still have their hands in a pot,” Golden said on the Paul Finebaum Show. “It’s like a galley kitchen with 25 cooks in it. A galley kitchen is not a very big kitchen, and it’s one football program. And those very influential people did not warm to Tom Herman. And the problem with it is you have to cater to those people as well.”
Hear Golden at 22:50 below:
Granted, coordinators don’t have to deal with the whims of boosters to the extent head coaches do. Still, the prospect of working for a head coach in Steve Sarkisian who will need to juggle multiple, possibly competing interests alongside that of his actual boss, athletic director Chris Del Conte, would not be an enticing one.
Arkansas, too, has its big-money boosters but their sway isn’t as strong as it was under Jeff Long (If it was, Gus Malzahn would have been hired instead of Chad Morris). Athletic director Hunter Yurachek is clearly the man in charge in Fayetteville, but doesn’t appear to meddle in the staffing and tactical affairs of Sam Pittman or allow external parties to do so. That’s a better situation for Barry Odom, who seems destined to become a head coach again after another year or two.
Longhorns no longer biggest fish in their pond
In decades past, Texas fans could count on landing one of the top two or three recruiting classes in the nation. The demise of the SWC in the 1990s and the rise of the SEC as the clear-cut premier conference in the nation has blunted Texas’ recruiting allure. While Texas hooked top 3 classes in 2018 and 2019, it no longer delivers them with the frequency it once did.
On top of that, the program’s recent inability to develop the top-flight talent it does get has led to results that Longhorn fans would have once considered unacceptable. Consider that in the Tom Herman era, Texas was a combined 7-5 against Texas Tech, Baylor and TCU.
Plus, Texas A&M in many ways has overshadowed Texas since the Aggies joined the SEC in 2011. In the last few years, the Aggies consistently finish higher in national rankings and have a coach in Jimbo Fisher who is superior to recent Longhorn hires Charlie Strong (a Batesville, Ark. native) and Tom Herman.
“A lot of people in Austin and a lot of people everywhere were kind of ridiculing the Aggies’ pursuit of Jimbo Fisher at Florida State,” TexAgs.com’s Billy Liucci told Paul Finebaum. “They got him and then they went to ridiculing the length of the contract and the amount of money.”
“Now that doesn’t look nearly as bad. And Texas always has that big brother thing where they think they’re better, they’re at a higher level, they’re entitled to certain things. A&M went and hired the national championship head coach, Texas just hired the national championship assistant coach.”
“So that’s fine and that might work, but I think the times of walking around just assuming things should be handed to you should be over.”
Add one of the nation’s premier defensive coordinators to that list of things.
Listen to Liucci starting at 17:03 below:
Arkansas plays a role in this, too
The decline of the Longhorns is only one part of the equation here.
The potential of the Razorback program is a factor, too. Odom has said he loves living in Fayetteville with his family that includes three children. Sure, coaches sometimes uproot their families again after a single year, but it better be worth it. In Odom’s case, leaving for another coordinator job may not be worth the extra hassle, even for the extra money.
Plus, Odom will lead a very promising, experienced Razorback defense in 2021. It returns All-SEC players in Grant Mogan, Bumper Pool and Jalen Catalon, while adding potential difference makers in JUCO defensive lineman Jalen Williams and former Penn State corner Trent Gordon.
This is shaping up to be one of the most highly anticipated Razorback defenses in many years.
Check out Dennis Dodd’s interview with Phil Elson and Matt Jenkins below:
At 1:10:40, he discusses whether Urban Meyer will take a $12 million offer to coach the Jacksonville Jaguars
And at 1:13:37, he talks about a 2019 “bidding war” between Arkansas, Missouri, Eli Drinkwitz and his agent Jimmy Sexton.
“Missouri won on Eli Drinkwitz so Arkansas got Sam Pittman.”