In less than four weeks Barry Odom and some select Missouri players will be in Birmingham, Ala., for SEC football media days, but he held a more intimate media gathering on Wednesday, meeting with local reporters at Shakespeare’s Pizza to discuss a broad range of topics. Here’s a quick review of the 40-minute session …
THE TOPIC: TIGERS' ROSTER
Missouri’s roster is sound and stable as the summer unfolds. Only one player has entered the transfer portal this offseason, cornerback Terry Petry, who is likely headed to a junior college closer to his home in Texas, Odom said. All but one of the team’s newcomers have arrived in Columbia for summer workouts. The only one who hasn’t is Kirkwood receiver Maurice Massey, who is finishing up one last course and is expected in Columbia in July.
As for injuries, all the players hobbled in the spring are recovering on schedule. Safety Jalani Williams (broken foot) is going through most drills and should be cleared to take part in preseason camp, Odom said. Linebacker Chad Bailey (torn ACL) and cornerback Adam Sparks (lower leg stress fracture) have both looked good this summer. Tight end Daniel Parker Jr. (torn labrum) has been fully cleared for drills. Tight end Albert Okwuegbunam (broken clavicle) is taking part in all summer drills.
The Tigers have one lingering NCAA eligibility case: New quarterback Shawn Robinson has submitted a transfer waiver to the NCAA hoping to get cleared for immediate eligibility for the upcoming season. If the transfer from TCU gets cleared he could appear in as many as four games without using up a year of eligibility and, perhaps, give the team some insurance in case starter Kelly Bryant suffers an injury. As of last week the NCAA informed Odom it hasn’t gotten to Robinson’s waiver request.
On Robinson: “Hopefully (the NCAA) gets to us at some point. That’s something he and his family wanted to pursue. If it works, awesome. If not, it’s going to work either way. Even if he gets it I don’t know how that would play out for us. Early in the semester they were handing (waivers) out like everyone was getting them. Now it seems like they’re more reined in. … But I’d rather find out yesterday than two weeks from now.”
On Okwuegbunam: “He looks more explosive in his movements, it seems like to me. Mentally he’s on a mission to make up from the time away. Obviously that can help us out.”
On losing only one transfer: “I do think it says a lot about the culture we have in our entire organization that they’ve held together and stood strong and they want to do something together. I’m thankful for the approach they’ve taken with that, too.
“It’s not always going to be zero for Missouri in the portal. It’s naïve to think that’s going to be the case. You look around at the Big 12, the Pac-12, the Big Ten, our league, we’re a lot different than anyone right now. I’ve educated them on it, but also we won’t stay at zero.”
Considering the rampant turnover in college sports these days, Missouri has been a model of roster continuity, which is rare and impressive considering the NCAA sanctions handed down in late January. (More on those shortly). Barring any unforeseen setbacks, Odom should have a full and healthy roster for the start of camp in August and will have many newcomers available to compete for roles this season.
As for Robinson, if he’s cleared to play this fall the Tigers have a fallback in case something keeps Bryant off the field for more than a couple weeks. Otherwise, Robinson can stay sharp with some game experience in four appearances or less to prepare him for 2020.
THE TOPIC: NCAA APPEAL
As far as Odom has been told, Missouri’s NCAA appeals case could wrap up by “late summer, early fall,” he said. Otherwise, he’s unsure what to expect in the coming months. He’s relieved not a single senior has entered the transfer portal, but he’ll sweat out the process until Aug. 1. Seniors have until that deadline to enter the portal and join another program without having to sit out the 2019 season.
“We’re pretty open with what we talk about team-wise,” he said. “I also know all those guys can still leave until Aug. 1. … It weighs on you because it’s there and it’s real. They’ve been maybe more honest than I want them to be about that stuff, but it’s been great because we’ve had dialogue about it. They’ve been honest and open and truthful. It’s part of it. You never know what’s going to be handed to you.
“Is it still weighing on them? Yeah. You bet. They know about it, they hear about it, read about it. But they’ve taken it as ‘us against everybody,’ which is awesome. I was hoping without me having to say that they’d do that. And they have. Now whenever (the appeal decision) is handed down, whether (the postseason ban) goes or stays, how are you going to react to it? That’s the next biggest hurdle or challenge.”
Odom is in wait and see mode like everyone else when it comes to the appeals case — and clearly he’d like to know sooner than later. But as has always been the case since the sanctions were announced nearly six months ago, the 2019 team will be defined by how the Tigers react to the decision.
THE TOPIC: TOP 25 RANKING
Despite the uncertain postseason situation, Missouri appears in the top 25 in most, if not all, the preseason magazines. The Tigers have been widely picked third in the SEC East behind favorite Georgia and Florida.
On being ranked in the preseason: “Hell yes, it’s awesome. I’ll take it any week we can get it. I think we’re going to be a really good football team. Some of that exposure is good. Our team accepts the ownership that comes with it. I want to stay there and move up. I love it. Motivationally I think we should use it the right way. If we weren’t ranked I’d say motivationally we should use it the right way.”
Odom has never backed away from raised outside expectations – and certainly won’t scoff at being ranked in the preseason polls, especially now that his new contract includes a clause that he gets a $5,000 bonus every week the Tigers are nationally ranked in one of the three major polls.
THE TOPIC: RECRUITING
The NCAA has accelerated the recruiting calendar by adding the December signing period and allowing recruits to take official visits in the spring of their junior seasons. Missouri has adjusted to the new rhythm and has started to capitalize, hauling in 10 verbal commitments for 2020, including another one Wednesday from junior college wide receiver Maureese Wren, who signed with Louisiana Tech in 2018 then left the program last August and resurfaced at Tyler, Texas, Junior College.
Odom isn’t wild about the changes.
“We’ve had official visitors in April, May and June that I’ve never talked to in person,” he said. “Foundationally that’s a problem with our sport because the true baseline emphasis we put on recruiting is relationship-building. It’s hard to build relationships when you haven’t had a chance to sit down with a kid and really visit in person. When I go into a school in January other than a senior I can’t talk or sit down or even say hi to an underclassman. There’s got to be something that gives. …. We had recruits in last weekend on official visits and half of them I had only communicated by phone or text. It’s really hard for me to get a great feel for does the kid really, really love ball? Does he want to fit into the culture we have at Mizzou? Does he understand what we’re looking for? That’s hard to do over text. Even more so now kids want to communicate through text rather than talking on the phone.”
On recent recruiting success in St. Louis: “Number one, it’s the continuing work of building relationships. Staff continuity and recruiting by position has helped us. Also getting guys on campus earlier. All of those factors go into it. The vision I’ve talked about now for three years, they’re seeing some of that take place and they understand the things they can achieve here. But as soon as you pause and take a breath there’s someone around the corner waiting to knock you out. It’s not going to slow down. There’s a lot of really good things going on and a lot of great things that are going to happen in the next couple weeks.
“Now we’ve got to keep them (committed) until December. That’s a long, long time. A 17-year-old kid makes up his mind in June and then can’t sign until the third week of December. Woe is me, right? But our staff has done a good job of adjusting the calendar. It’s been a positive. I wouldn’t say it’s enjoyable but that’s where we’re at. I don’t see it slowing down.”
June used to be a month for college coaches to spend time with their current team and their own families, but the new recruiting rules have turned June into a crucial month for recruiting visits and camps. Odom doesn’t like speed dating recruiting. And that’s what it’s become with the earlier visits and earlier signing period. He’d rather have more time to develop relationships with recruits before they’re pressed into making decisions. He’d like to have more time to see how a high school prospect is progressing academically before heavily recruiting him. But to his staff’s credit, Missouri has made the transition to the new calendar — and the last month of commitments, notably in the St. Louis market, proves it. (More on that in tomorrow's print edition.)
THE TOPIC: STANLEY CUP
If you haven’t heard, the St. Louis Blues won the Stanley Cup a week ago. Odom has belted out his share of “Let’s Go, Blues!” chants the last couple weeks, either on St. Louis radio or at a recent caravan stop. He knows his audience.
“What a great thing for the state and obviously the city. Some of those lessons we’ll be able to use with our team. … There’s so many lessons out there in sport that you can relate to. What a cool story. I really wanted to go for the parade (Saturday) and things I wanted to take part in, but we had camp and official visits, so I had to live through pictures and video. It looked like a hell of a lot of fun.”