The transition for a college football coach always has its obstacles, and Barry Odom has certainly faced his share of challenges as the new head football coach at UNLV, especially since he was hired so late in the recruiting season. Yet, like all coaches, he keeps griding, accentuating the positives, and looks to make improvements day to day.
Odom, 46, was hired on Dec. 6 to replace Marcus Arroyo, who went 7-23 in three seasons. A former head coach at Missouri, where he went 25-25 and earned two bowl berths in four seasons, Odom spent the last three seasons as defensive coordinator at Arkansas.
He held his opening press conference as UNLV coach on Dec. 7 and then headed straight to the recruiting trail.
With limited time, UNLV announced seven recruits during the early signing period on Dec. 21.
The Rebels added 18 more recruits by the Feb. 1 late signing period.
So much to do, so little time, but it was impressive that Odom and his staff were able to recruit 25 new players in the two signing periods. In addition, five preferred walk-ons also committed to UNLV.
“A lot of it had to do with the staff that we were able to put together because they had relationships with kids from recruiting,” Odom said in a phone interview with HERO Sports. “And so, credit to them on continuing the relationships and then trying to get a quick assessment of what we needed.”
The breakdown of the scholarship players was 14 high school recruits, seven FBS transfers, and four junior college transfers.
Even though it’s easy in a new program to go for quick fixes, Odom and his staff put a major priority on high school players, as the totals indicate.
“I still believe it is important to recruit high schools,” Odom said. “We were heavy in high school signings this year.”
Odom played from 1996-1999 at Missouri, where he recorded 346 career tackles at linebacker.
He began his coaching career as a high school assistant, then head coach before returning to Missouri in 2003 as a graduate assistant and staying through the 2011 season, where he coached safeties his last three years. Odom then became the defensive coordinator at Memphis from 2012-2014. In his final year in Memphis in 2014, the Tigers went 10-3, 7-1 in the American Athletic Conference and shared the AAC crown with UCF and Cincinnati.
When asked if being at a Group of five school at Memphis will help as he returns to the G5 level now, Odom said absolutely not, because he didn’t consider Memphis a typical G5 team in 2014. That team was led by quarterback Paxton Lynch, a future NFL first-round draft choice.
“My last year in 2014 it didn’t matter if we were playing Group of Five, Power Five, or the NFL, there wasn’t anybody who wanted to play us at the end of the year, we were that good,” he said.
That is what he will strive for at UNLV.
The next season in 2015, he returned to Missouri as defensive coordinator and linebackers coach before beginning his head coaching stint in 2016.
Looking to start a winning legacy
UNLV doesn’t have the best recent football history, and that is putting things kindly. Last season’s 5-7 record was the ninth straight year of a sub .500 mark. Since 2001 there has been one winning record, 7-6 in 2013.
Odom doesn’t care about the past and is only looking forward, excited to be back running a program.
“I want to be judged on what happens from Dec. 7 on,” he said.
In other words, just because there hasn’t been much recent success, doesn’t mean it can’t be attained.
“I don’t want to say that things can’t be accomplished because they haven’t been done recently, I refuse to believe that,” he said. “I understand what we need to do to win, there’s a blueprint and a foundational approach on how that happens, and we have to be consistent with it and coach our guys with great urgency, with tremendous trust and relationships and the openness to have a successful program.”
Part of the job of a football coach is the ability to adapt, and Odom was faced with a major challenge when nomadic Bobby Petrino, considered a home run of a hire at offensive coordinator, left after 20 days to take the same position at Texas A&M.
“Every year there is some sort of change among all staff, so you have to be prepared, you better be organized and have a plan in place,” he said. “As a head coach, you always have a list of guys that you would entertain and that you can attract to be part of your staff.”
UNLV then hired Brennan Marion as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. The 35-year-old Marion is considered a rising star in the coaching ranks. He came from Texas where he was the passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach.
“I am excited about him, he relates well to the players and schematically he’s got a really good plan,” Odom said of Marion. “He’s a great communicator and teacher and the expectation is to score a lot of points, he understands that.”
Odom says one of the more pleasant developments is that he didn’t lose that many players to the transfer portal. He returns all four quarterbacks from last year’s roster and will welcome incoming freshman quarterback Bo Edmundson (6-2, 190) from Lake Travis, Texas. The player who saw the most action is rising junior Doug Brumfield, who completed 164 of 254 for 1,898 yards, 10 touchdowns, and five interceptions.
“We have been very fortunate since we’ve been here, we haven’t lost very many guys,” Odom said. “And I’d be naïve to think that is not going to happen over time, but you have to realize that recruiting never stops, the relationship part of this business in my opinion is vitally important.”
And he can’t wait to get started. Spring practice begins March 1 and concludes with the April 8 spring game.
Most of all, Odom says that he has learned a lot from his first head coaching stint and feels that will benefit him greatly at UNLV.
“I think you look at what I know now as a head coach compared to what I did in 2016 when I got the job, I am a heck of a lot better coach today than I was a year ago and light years ahead of where I was in 2016,” he said. “And I think I will continue to grow as years go on and you evaluate, you critique, you continue to learn and ask for help and those are the things you try to apply each year.”