You’ve probably heard the big news by now: Barry Odom will be the next Razorbacks’ defensive coordinator.
Odom was certainly fans’ top candidate for the job as soon as Sam Pittman was hired. Odom as been Mizzou’s head coach for the last four seasons. Before that, he was Mizzou’s DC during Gary Pinkel’s last year in 2015, and the DC at Memphis from 2012 to 2014. He is a Mizzou alum and has spent most of his career as an assistant there, so this hire really spices up the Battle Line Rivalry Presented by Shelter Insurance.
This is definitely a big get for Pittman. A green head coach needs to surround himself with former head coaches and coaches with experience at other SEC schools, and Odom brings both to the table. Outside a two-year rebuild at Mizzou in 2016 and 2017, Odom’s defenses have been excellent, both as coordinator and coach.
(NOTE: Confused by any stats? Check out the glossary.)
Odom’s upgrade to Memphis’ defense was immediate. The Tigers were a dismal 119th in Defense PAN the year before he arrived, and he churned out three top-50 defenses in three years. You could probably make the argument that Odom was as much or more responsible for Memphis’ success than the head coach, Justin Fuente, who parlayed his work there to a job at Virginia Tech.
Odom’s massive success at Memphis made him a hot name. He took over a talented and experienced defense at Mizzou in 2015. The Tigers finished 14th in the country in Defense PAN. They only allowed more than 21 points twice but went 5-7 thanks to one of the worst offenses in modern SEC history. Odom was named head coach after the season. Like many first-time head coaches, he over-compensated on the other side of the ball: his first two offenses were good, but his first two defenses were rebuilding and bad. The Tigers got things figured out in 2018 and produced two more top-40 defenses in the last two seasons.
What to expect
Odom’s defenses will likely be very different than what we’ve seen for years. The Hogs have generally favored a bend-don’t-break approach designed to limit big plays but give up short ones. That’s not how Odom generally does things.
At Memphis, Odom slowly turned a balanced defense to an aggressive one. At Mizzou, he inherited an excellent bend-don’t-break defense and finished 1st in marginal defensive explosiveness during his first season.
Over the last four years as head coach, though, his Mizzou defenses have done the same thing as Memphis’: they’ve become better against the run and better at disrupting opposing offenses. They give up big plays, but they also force a lot of three-and-outs, turnovers, and tackles for loss.
This is the kind of hire that backs up Pittman’s talk about playing aggressive football and having a blue-collar approach. Odom’s first task will be to land some new recruits. The Hogs need more talent at every single position, and depth is thin at linebacker, defensive end, and safety right now. The good news is that Odom will have a ton of young players to work with. Expect the Hogs to struggle next year and possibly in 2021 as well, but the three- or four-year outlook looks positive for the Razorback defense.
On the Other Side of the Ball
Speaking of Missouri, the Tigers’ offensive line coach, Brad Davis, was Pittman’s first assistant coach hire. Pittman knows the value of a good offensive line coach and is undoubtedly familiar with good line coaches across the country. He’s worked with Davis before: Davis was a GA at North Carolina in 2008, when Pittman was offensive line coach.
Davis has bounced around in recent years. He spent two seasons at Missouri. Before that, he spent one year at Florida, one year at East Carolina, and one year at James Madison, all as offensive line coach.
His salary was $450,000 per year at Mizzou. Reports say he’ll make around $500,000 at Arkansas.
On Twitter, some Mizzou fans greeted the hire by claiming that Davis was a bad offensive line coach and they won’t be sorry to see him go. Of course, it’s never a good idea to take advice from your enemy, so I dug up the advanced stats.
See for yourself:
It’s hard to complain about Davis’ lines. They were good in short-yardage and at creating opportunities (6+ yard runs) for the running back. That said, there are a lot of confounding variables here: Mizzou had three offensive coordinators in five years (Josh Henson in 2015, Josh Heupel in 2016-2017, and Derek Dooley in 2018-2019), so some of the differences may have been due to that.
For an example of how difficult this analysis is, let’s look at sack rate. Was Mizzou’s ranking of 57th in marginal sack rate in 2019 bad? It’s hard to say. It was a dropoff from the three prior seasons, but Mizzou also had a new quarterback in Kelly Bryant. According to SEC Stat Cat, Bryant was pressured at the 4th-lowest rate in the SEC among qualified quarterbacks, despite holding onto the ball for 2.52 seconds per attempt, second-highest in the conference. Basically, much of the increase in Mizzou’s sack rate can be attributed to holding onto the ball for too long. Or that could all just be a factor of Dooley’s offense.
Having an offensive line coach in place will allow Pittman to quickly get to work recruiting linemen, a position of desperate need. Expect the Hogs to target guys like Conway’s Robert Scott, the top-ranked offensive lineman in the state for next year. Four-star tackle Ty’Kieast Crawford, a top priority of the Morris staff, could also remain in play, as he had an offer from Davis and Mizzou as well. And Pittman may try to get some of his Georgia commits to follow him to Fayetteville. I’d expect the Hogs to be as line-heavy as possible in this recruiting class, and you may see multiple freshmen starting on the offensive line at the start of next year.