COLUMBIA - This season is Barry Odom's first as Missouri's defensive coordinator, and he's already answering questions about it being his last.
Not because his job performance has Missouri fans calling for Odom's exit. Quite the opposite.
Missouri's defense has played so well this year many have projected Odom as a suitable replacement for Gary Pinkel, who will be resigning as Missouri's head coach at the end of the season.
Odom, Memphis' defensive coordinator from 2012-14 after a nine-year stint as a Missouri assistant, said Monday his focus is still on the current Missouri team, which plays Friday at Arkansas.
"This time of year, throughout the country, there's a lot of talk," he said, "and I owe it to this football team to stay focused and to try to get us in position to play our best game defensively."
Not that he's shy about his career aspirations.
"I'm not afraid to say it. I've said it a number of times. I'm going to be a head coach," he said. "Don't know when, don't know where, but yeah, that's what I want to do. I think every year you set goals on what you want to do, and from a career standpoint, you get into this business, and I want to be the best.
"I want to be the best coordinator there is and eventually someday I want to be the best head coach there is. And so I've always worked that way, that I want to be the best at what I'm doing, and that's not going to change now."
It would be especially sweet if that opportunity came at his alma mater.
"I really won't let my mind go there, but yeah, it'd be such a great opportunity," he said, "to represent this athletic program and university and state, it'd be awesome. No question."
Pinkel also declined to speak about the possibility of Odom being his successor, but he still managed to slip in a compliment.
"I don't think it's fair to talk about any one of the coaches, because who's involved (in the coaching search) and who isn't?" Pinkel said. "I've got opinions on all my coaches. So I just don't think this is the appropriate time to really talk about that, although I think he'd do a great job."
Pinkel did talk about the transition from coordinator to head coach, one he made 25 years ago when he went from being Washington's offensive coordinator to Toledo's head coach.
"Because a guy's a good coordinator, does that mean he's going to be a great head coach? I don't think it has anything to do with it," Pinkel said. "Now, you might see him be a coordinator that manages his players really well and kind of has ... CEO (characteristics). You need somebody that can organize an infrastructure of a football program.
"... How do you pick it? And guess what, generally they're wrong. In our business, generally you're wrong. ... You're looking for leadership, you're looking for, obviously, people that have high integrity, you're looking for people that can manage and people that can organize and all those power words and find the right guy to be able to do that, and I think that's difficult."
Though he plays on the opposite side of the ball, receiver J'Mon Moore wouldn't mind it if the defensive coordinator got the job.
"I like coach Odom," he said. "Coach Odom's a good coach. He's one of those people who cares about more than just football. Every time I see coach Odom, we have a conversation. He's asking me how I'm doing, if my family's fine, how I'm doing in school. So he'd definitely be a pretty good head coach."
A former Tigers linebacker, Odom joined Missouri's staff this year after former defensive coordinator Dave Steckel left to be Missouri State's head coach. Missouri has allowed 4.31 yards per play this season, fourth in the country. The Tigers' 15.1 points allowed per game ranks seventh.
The defense's strong performance has come opposite an offense that has ranked among the worst in the country. Consequently, the Missouri defense has been on the field for more plays than any other defense ranked in the top 20 in yards per game.
Odom is also the team's linebackers coach, meaning he's had his hands on Kentrell Brothers, the nation's leading tackler with 140, and Michael Scherer, tied for 10th in the Southeastern Conference with 85.
Many who have suggested Odom be the next Missouri coach say he is built in the same mold as Pinkel, who became Missouri's all-time winningest coach in his 15 years in Columbia.
That assessment is fine with Odom.
"I've been with Gary for so long, that would be a huge compliment," he said. "Because I respect him, I respect the program that he's built and the things that he's done in the course of 25 years as a head coach. Every time you're around someone that you respect and you have a chance to work with, you're going to adapt and bring some of those qualities with you.
"It would be foolish to say, whatever my next step is, that I wouldn't try to do some of the things that he's done, because it's proven he's had a lot of success over the years."
Brothers and offensive lineman Connor McGovern have joined center Evan Boehm in accepting invitations to the 2016 Reese's Senior Bowl.
Boehm, a captain, set a program record with his 51st consecutive game started Saturday. Brothers could set the school for tackles with 25 more this season. McGovern has started at left tackle for the Tigers every game this season.
The Senior Bowl will be played Jan. 30 at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Ala.