Rounding up hot topics from sports columnist Ben Frederickson's weekly chat with St. Louis sports fans . . .
Q: What do you think is going to happen between Mizzou and Barry Odom after this season? Would any other coach even want this job?
A: I would not be surprised to see Mizzou move on from Odom. The case for keeping him has really been damaged during this five-game losing streak. People in position of power at the university are openly discussing his future. That's not a great sign for the coach.
If AD Jim Sterk, who did not hire Odom, is not convinced the program is moving toward the Top 25 direction he has said he wants since he became the AD, then he needs to go get someone he believes can do that. He has to be confident enough in his belief that Odom isn't the one as he is in his ability to go get the one. He also has to be confident enough he can come up with the money for the buyouts and new hires. If you're going to pay what Odom gets paid, you are not guaranteed to get anything better.
I don't buy the no-one-wants-this-job stuff. The same argument can be used for any program that has decided to make a change. Those programs are usually not perfect, or there would be no change. Similar things were said after Kim Anderson was let go. Cuonzo Martin wanted the job. Came from California for it. Got a nice salary, too. That matters. Same for the contract Martin received. It proved Sterk understood the program Martin was taking over. There was time and security baked in. If Odom is let go, Mizzou will be on probation and limited somewhat, not majorly, in recruiting. Throw in whatever perception issues exist from the 2015 protest, and there is some baggage there, no doubt. But there will be coaches interested. It's an SEC job, and those are desirable. If Sterk is convinced the coach needs to go, better to rip the Band-Aid off. No reason for a lame duck season.
Q: Does Mizzou's bowl ban make it easier or harder to make a coaching change?
A: It makes it easier — if AD Jim Sterk is leaning toward making a change, because now the game against Arkansas does not decide if a bowl game is an option or not, and he does not have to wrestle with what to do with a team that could be heading to a bowl game, and that coaching situation. Judging Odom's future on the Arkansas game, good or bad, was always a bad idea. That's a very bad team. Firing a coach who goes to three consecutive bowl games, though, is something some at Mizzou would push back against. Now that's off the table through no fault of Odom's.
Q: Do you think Mizzou got rejected by the NCAA appeals committee, in part, because of the school's #MakeItRight campaign that attempted to swing public opinion on its side?
A: Perhaps. I asked AD Jim Sterk and chancellor Alexander Cartwright that question in Kansas City. They didn't say yes. They didn't say no, either. The NCAA does not like people within the NCAA being overly critical of the NCAA. It's like any other big organization in that sense. It prefers company men saying the company line. That is why Mizzou was always trying to walk a tightrope here. It cooperated with the initial investigation. Even got a pat on the head from the NCAA for that publicly. But then Mizzou got shafted on the punishment, so it created the #MakeItRight campaign and created a discussion about a common-sense question — if schools that cooperate get blasted worse than schools that resist investigation and cooperation at every turn, then what is the point in cooperating? The NCAA does not like people bringing that up. You have to think that played a part both in the appeal taking so long, and the appeal's verdict. All of these things have a political element to them. Always. There seems to be two clear paths here. Either cooperate entirely and sing the NCAA's praises all the time, or bar the door and tell the NCAA to kick rocks. Anything in between, and you get Mizzou'd. Another thing: There was a lot of buzz that the NCAA preferred to announce this Wednesday, not Tuesday. Yes, the day before Thanksgiving. You decide if it was a coincidence.
Q: Is Dexter Fowler better off in right field or left field? Any chance the Cardinals switch him from right to left?
A: It's hard to know how Fowler would do in left field. He's never played an inning there during his MLB career. He's played more than 1,400 innings in right field, but all but one of those innings came since he joined the Cardinals. Right and center seem to be where the Cards are most comfortable playing him. With the churn the Cardinals sound prepared to have in left field, it would be somewhat surprising to see Fowler move into the mix there. The Cardinals seem to be hinting at him returning as the right-field starter. That's the easiest thing to say right now, too. Spring training or additions made along the way could change the picture a bit.
Q: What are you most excited about when it comes to the XFL debut?
A: Interested to see how the QB plays. Jordan Ta'amu could sling it around at Ole Miss and has a chance to be pretty good depending on how the team plays around him. Perhaps most interested in the attendance. I get the sense a good chunk of people want to see what this looks like. But will they keep coming back? That might depend on how well the team plays. I think the XFL whiffed by sending all teams to Houston for training camp. That minimizes coverage of the teams in their hometown.
Q: Mizzou tight end Albert Okwuegbunam has been praised as a desirable NFL prospect, but he has a hard time staying on the field, and has a hard time playing up to his potential when he is on the field. Fair assessment? Why would a team spend a high draft pick on him based off this body of work. Could he return next season?
A: Great question. I would not spend a prime draft pick on Okwuegbunam. He's got the frame and the physical gifts, but he has not shown the instinct and mental and physical toughness required to play his position at the next level. He should dominate every week. The collapse of the offense is not on him entirely, but he's been a bit of a microcosm of this team this season. Talented. Lacking in intangibles. He's not a very enthusiastic blocker, either. NFL teams care about that.
Q: Does Cardinals ownership not understand that the team is just plain boring? The Cardinals were not exciting to watch in 2019, and the team is suggesting no major moves are coming for 2020. What gives?
A: No, Cardinals ownership doesn't think the team is boring. I don't think the team is boring. I think the team's boring, bad offense is, for some, overshadowing everything good the team did last season.
The Cardinals' rotation and bullpen were among baseball's top five in most meaningful stats. The defense committed the fewest errors in the league. The baserunning was a weapon, one of the best in baseball.
Those things are not boring. They are winning traits. They are fun to watch.
It's the lineup that lagged, that was tough to watch, that needs to be addressed.
But a team is not its lineup. If that was the case, the Nationals would not have won a World Series.
The offense was boring. The team wasn't. There's a difference.
The question is, how does the offense get better?
The current plan, unless it's a smokescreen or unless it changes, is to bank on most of the returning players being better.
It's a gamble.
Q: What are your impressions of Kofi Cockburn at Illinois? That match-up between him and Mizzou's Jeremiah Tilmon at Braggin' Rights should be something, right?
A: Kofi has been outstanding. He's had a double-double in all but one game as of Tuesday. He hadn't fouled out once. Based off what we have watched from Jeremiah Tilmon in two big games, Kofi will eat his lunch at Braggin' Rights. I thought Tilmon's no-show against Butler on Monday was one of the most disappointing games he's had in a Mizzou uniform. He let the two quick fouls completely remove him from the game. He didn't foul out, but he might as well have. Forget the zero points. Two rebounds in 17 minutes for Tilmon is borderline unforgivable. Cuonzo Martin was steamed after the game. Don't blame him. Mizzou will be a lost team until or unless Tilmon starts to reach his potential at both ends of the court.
Q: The Blues have lost five of their last seven including back-to-back defeats to Nashville. Silver lining is three of those came in overtime. But this downward trend has to be a bit of a concern, right? Another thing: Can we keep realistic expectations for Troy Brouwer? He's a role guy now.
A: Sure. The Blues have plenty of grit. They're also probably beginning to feel the very real effects of being without three of their top-12 forwards. It's going to be a grind. I'm with you on Brouwer. Don't expect magic. Just be happy if he contributes and carves out a niche. Anything beyond that is hoping for movie-scene stuff, though this team pretty much made a movie last season, didn't it? The sequel will be harder, thanks to these long-lasting injuries to key players. The Blues built themselves a bit of a cushion before the injury wall hit. They're going to need it, I think.
Q: Does Mizzou realize how bad Memorial Stadium looks on TV during home games now that the sidelines have been switched? Opposing teams' fans get a ton of TV time right behind the visitors' bench, smack dab in the middle of the student section? Can this be fixed?
A: When they switched sidelines, they had to change the student section, due to an SEC rule that won't let the opponents' sideline be right in front of the student section. The SEC prefers this way, so teams don't have to mix as much coming on and off the field. But the biggest pusher for this change was head coach Barry Odom. He felt it gave his team a competitive advantage to be on the shaded sideline, and felt the setup made it easier for play calling and limited potential sign-stealing or giving too much away. Sarcasm alert, but it does not seem to have helped much. I don't know if it can be changed back now, but it would probably have to be a coach who pushes it through.