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story.lead_photo.caption Missouri athletic director Jim Sterk addresses the media Saturday afternoon about the firing of head football coach Barry Odom. Missouri has launched a national search to find Odom's replacement. Photo by Colin O'Brien / News Tribune.
News Tribune sports reporter Tom Rackers
If you're surprised, you weren't listening.

On Saturday morning, Missouri athletic director Jim Sterk announced Barry Odom would not be returning as head football coach for the Tigers next season.

On Tuesday, he basically said the same thing.

After the NCAA said it had turned down Missouri's appeal of its punishments for academic fraud involving a tutor, Sterk held a press conference in Kansas City prior to the men's basketball basketball game in the Hall of Fame Classic at the Sprint Center.

Sterk tore into the NCAA before someone asked about Odom and his future at Missouri. It was a reasonable question. Missouri was 5-6 and had gone from a Top 25 team atop the SEC East to one that needed to win Friday at Arkansas to become bowl eligible. Which the NCAA took care of in its decision to uphold the postseason ban for football, baseball and softball.

I'm going to paraphrase here, but Sterk basically said he had full confidence in Odom but it was not the time to discuss Odom's future.

Umm, why not? Sterk had the chance to quiet all the speculation, just say Odom's coming back for the 2020 season.

He didn't.

Sterk didn't because he already had all but made up his mind, win or lose at Arkansas. He said differently Saturday, that the decision was made "in the last 24 hours around that game." Maybe the final one percent of the decision, to give Sterk the benefit of the doubt.

And when chancellor Alexander Cartwright said the university was prepared to loan the athletic department money to help make up for the loss of the $8 million in shared bowl revenue from the Southeastern Conference because of the postseason ban, where exactly was at least part of that money going to go?

Potential contract buyouts, that's where.

There is nothing to celebrate about Odom's firing, a man just lost his dream job at his alma mater after going 25-25 in four years with the Tigers.

Was it the right decision, especially a year after Odom received a contract extension? I think so, better to make it a year too early than a year too late. The five-game losing streak this year was the final straw, not only for Sterk, but more importantly, for Missouri fans.

On at least two occasions Saturday afternoon, Sterk brought up the south end zone project at Faurot Field. The project houses the Missouri football locker room, training room and meeting rooms.

And also the Bunker Club and Show Me Club. That's where the elite meet, at a hefty price tag, to attend Tiger games. Missouri needs to sell those seats and boxes and the product on the field was not going to do it.

Attendance noticeably dropped throughout the season. The Tigers may have listed attendance at nearly 50,000 or above for games later in the season, but those were tickets sold, not fannies in the seats. That had to get Sterk's attention. You can love a team or you can hate a team, but apathy for a team is the death knell for a program, and Sterk had to see it coming with the empty benches in the stands at Faurot Field.

"We want to get attendance up and get the entire state excited about Mizzou football," Sterk said Saturday.

Football drives the financial bus and when ticket sales are down, the entire athletic department pays the price. On Saturday, Sterk estimated Missouri needed to add between $5-6 million just to get back to the revenue brought in during the 2014 season.

"The decision today is part of getting back to that level," he said.

Every athletic director has a list of potential successors somewhere. Sterk knows the two or three people he wants to go after, now it's a matter of whether he can get one of them when Parker Executive Search reaches out to them.

Who is on that list? I don't know. But here are some names who are on the dream list for fans that definitely aren't on Sterk's.

Currently unemployed Urban Meyer, he's not taking the job in a million years or for less than $20 million a year. Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, he has Missouri ties because his wife is from Kansas City. That's quite a stretch. How about Iowa State coach Matt Campbell? I could make the argument his current job is better than the one at Missouri. The Cyclones are a top-half program in the Big 12. Missouri, maybe at the top of the bottom half of the SEC.

That raises the question what realistically, not in a Black and Gold dream world, is the Missouri football program? It should be a top 25 team that finishes in the top half of the SEC East, wins 8-9 games a season while occasionally challenging for a spot in the conference championship game.

That sounds a lot like what the program was for much of the time in the latter days under Gary Pinkel. It's been said you never want to be the guy who replaces the guy like Odom was. You want to be the guy who follows the guy who replaced the guy. That's who will be the new Missouri football coach.

It's time to start tracking flights in and out of Columbia Regional Airport.

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