HOOVER, Ala. — Missouri football coach Barry Odom yearns for the day when questions regarding campus protests and declining enrollment don’t arise during an interview session.
“It seems like everytime we’re about to have a media day or something to do with press, somebody brings that up,” he said Wednesday morning before his official appearance at 2017 SEC Media Days.
Odom called those topics “fair,” but was none too pleased when the conversation drifted from his football team to a troubling situation that continues to receive national attention.
This week, the New York Times published a story claiming the University of Missouri’s enrollment has dropped 35 percent since a campus group — Concerned Student 1950 — ignited national controversy in Fall 2015. The university was incensed enough to publish an official response, claiming several key facts were omitted from the story.
Missouri’s football coach said he had not yet finished reading the Times feature, but appeared to take umbrage at either that story or similar stories that have cast a harsh light on Missouri.
“I would like for — locally, nationally, worldly, whoever’s writing an article — let’s look at the big picture,” Odom said. “Come join me for a day on campus. Come join our administration. Let’s get all the facts before we write an article that doesn’t contain every fact that’s out there.
“There’s so many variants and aspects in what goes into running a public institution. There’s always gonna be ups and downs. I feel really good about the future of Missouri. Feel really good about Mizzou has done for a long time and what it’s gonna do for hundreds of years after I’m gone.”
The football team was perhaps the most effective agent of change in 2015, forcing university action with a boycott of athletic activities.
Odom knows his program has the power to bring students back, too.
“It’s statistically shown in history, when your football team wins, your enrollment goes up,” he said, referring to the well-documented Flutie Effect. “Absolutely, it’s been put on my desk. It’s been put on my desk in a number of different ways. Winning cures a lot of things. It won’t be the cure-all to this. But, yeah, it won’t hurt. I know that. So that’s the plan. I enjoy having that responsibility and the opportunity to do that for my alma mater.”
Junior quarterback Drew Lock echoed his coach’s thoughts.
“We win, you see more of us everywhere on TV,” Lock said. “You see an awesome culture with football. Football’s huge in the SEC, and this is an SEC school; if we’re successful, I wouldn’t doubt [it can help enrollment].”
Problem is, Missouri football has reeled off two consecutive losing seasons since winning a pair of SEC East titles in 2013 and 2014. Gary Pinkel, considered by many to be the best coach in Tigers history, was forced out by a cancer diagnosis following the 2015 season.
Odom, a former Tigers player and veteran member of Pinkel’s staff, took over soon afterward and went 4-8 in his first season. His 2017 team has enough talent to surprise the experts, but the current consensus is that Missouri will be among the conference’s least important teams for a third straight year.
The 40-year-old borrowed Pinkel’s vocabulary to describe the importance of a bowl appearance this coming season.
“Huge, to steal a word from my former boss,” he said, smiling. “Mammoth. Monumental. All the above.”
Odom joked that he had already rented out dorm rooms for football games this year (an innovative approach by the university to fill empty facilities) in an effort to keep in-laws away from his house on game weekends.
He was in good spirits for most of his 35-minute interview with select media on Wednesday morning, but his wish to stay away from controversial topics went unfulfilled.
“Last year … there was a lot of focus on a number of things that weren’t really football related,” he said. “Now, maybe this year we’ll get to talk about when we weren’t very good last year in football.”