SEPT. 17: GEORGIA AT MISSOURI, 7:30 P.M.
UGA LEADS 4-1-0
LAST YEAR: Bulldogs won 9-6
HOOVER, Ala. – Missouri linebacker Michael Scherer was sitting in a side room at The Wynfrey Hotel during SEC Football Media Days when somebody walked in told the Tigers’ contingent the news. Athletic Director Mack Rhoades had just announced that he was stepping down to take the AD’s job at Baylor.
“I was like, ‘really, he just got here?’” said Scherer, a junior from St. Louis. “I just found out 10 minutes ago, probably the same time you guys found out. It’s kind of like, ‘well, bummer.’”
Getting bombarded with off-field issues has been kind of par for the course at Mizzou the last year or so it seems. From coach Gary Pinkel resigning last fall, to the football team’s involvement in student protests against the school’s president over strained racial relations, it seems the most of the focus lately has been on everything but the football being played on the field.
Scherer is hopeful that is about to change. As in now, before the season starts.
“I could definitely deal with not having to answer so many questions outside of Mizzou football family,” said Scherer, a 6-foot-3, 235-pound linebacker who has logged more than 180 tackles the last two seasons. “… You do get kind of like, ‘there’s Mizzou with another deal; Mizzou’s in the news again.’ I’m sure there’s going to be people that are like, ‘I thought we were out of the news.’ But not anymore.”
Starting with Scherer’s side of the football, there is reason to believe the Tigers can get back to business of playing good football season this season. They’re a defensive squad that is absolutely stacked in the front seven, starting with Scherer and continuing with their traditional complement quarterback-eating defensive ends and linemen. Defensive end Charles Harris, defensive tackle Terry Buckner Jr. and defensive tackle Walter Brady, a freshman All-American last year, all enter the season as all-star candidates.
While the Tigers have struggled some on offense in recent years — which along with these resident distractions, contributed to last season’s 5-7 record — they’ve continued to play a tough brand of ball on defense. They were second in the league last year in total (302 ypg) and scoring defense (16.2 ppg).
Not coincidentally, it was defensive coordinator Barry Odom who was chosen by Mizzou to succeed Pinkel immediately after the season. If anyone has any question about how that selection went over with the team, they need only to view the YouTube video of that Dec. 3rd night when Rhoades informed the Tigers of his decision.
“There are things in life that you’ll always remember,” Odom said Wednesday, when asked to recall that moment at SEC Media Days. “It was such a great feeling, I have a hard time of putting it in words.”
Odom, 39, takes over after spending just one season as Missouri’s defensive coordinator. But he has deep roots on that campus. He played there from 1996-99, worked there as an administrator or coach for 10 years and was an assistant coach from 2009-11 before leaving to coordinate defense at Memphis for three highly-successful seasons.
Understandably, after all the turmoil and tumult of the last year, Odom comes in determined to turn down the volume on all the outside noise and get the Tigers’ focus back on playing winning football.
“We’re doing everything we can to make sure that our football team’s singular focus is on moving forward and being the best that we can be in 2016,” Odom said. “I’ve addressed it every time I’ve had the opportunity to speak.”
The Tigers will need to have their minds early. They open the season on the road at West Virginia. After a home game against Eastern Michigan, they play their SEC home opener against Georgia in Columbia.
They can only hope that there will be no more protests or admnitrative changes between now and then.
“What are you going to do about it,” Scherer said. “I can’t do anything about it. I can’t change anything that’s happening. You just have to move forward and keep going on like nothing’s wrong, like nothing’s changed. That’s just kind of how we deal with things. I’m going to show up tomorrow for workouts and workouts are going to be exactly the way they were drawn up to be yesterday. Nothing’s going to change because somebody’s gone. That’s the kind of mentality you have to take.”