Roy Exum - ‘Let’s Talk Real Life’

Monday, September 25, 2017 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

In mid-November of 2015, the Missouri football team very unwisely went on strike. A black student had refused to eat until a list of racially-based demands were met. Some on the football team were sympathetic and it quickly morphed into the biggest catastrophe in the annals of higher education. The university would lose hundreds of millions, athletic donations dropped 72 percent, and 400 jobs were slashed.

The stench is still so bad freshman enrollment last month was down 35 percent from two years ago and today seven dormitories are shuttered. President Obama praised the strikers and the team was awarded a courage award by ESPN but the real truth is it will take years for the university to outlive the economic disaster and the nation’s scorn.

The strike only lasted several days but the head coach, citing health reasons, stepped down following a 5-7 season. Since then the Tigers have been the doormat of the SEC. In the last two seasons Mizzou has won just five games, this before Auburn thrashed Mizzou 51-14 on Saturday night. Yes, it could have been much worse.

So, if you were Barry Odom, the head coach, what would you say? There you are, your defense just giving up 482 yards, and, man, that post-game media is going to clobber you worse than Auburn’s Kerryon Johnson just did with his five touchdowns.

Odom, who once played linebacker for Mizzou, gave an opening statement that should have won an Oscar. In the 50 years I have covered sports I’ve heard hundreds of coaches whine, particularly after woodshed whippings, but this “real life” response will go down as one of my favorites. Here’s the entire transcript:

"Get your pens ready, microphones on, and let's talk real life and where we're at, alright? I want to get one thing real straight: I'm going to win here and that's going to happen. We will win. This is a turnaround. Any way you want to slice it or dice it or want to look at it, this is a turnaround process. And unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, I'm built for this because I've been in a whole heck of a lot of them in my entire life.

"I want to go back to the year 1997-98 when Larry Smith was here. His ass went and fought for 14 years and finally broke down the wall. He did it. There's a lot of people that went and sacrificed and did a lot of things to get that turned around, but I was a part of it. I was in the locker room. I saw it. I was their captain. I know what it takes.

"Fast forward to 2004, everybody wanted to run Gary Pinkel out of town. That's pretty damn foolish, because all he's done is become the winningest coach in program history. It was a turnaround. It took time. That's where we're at.

"It's a turnaround. I don't like it. I want to win right now, but that's not the hand I'm given. We're doing a lot of really good things in this program, our kids are working extremely hard, we're not winning games yet, but we will.

"I'm the man to go get it done with this staff, with this team, with this program. There's not anybody left standing after 2015. Alright? I am. I know what it takes.

"You talk about dark days? I heard that over here walking across the street. I've seen a damn dark day. July 12, 2005. Aaron O'Neal. That's a dark day. This ain't dark days. (O’Neal, a freshman, died after collapsing during an off-season conditioning session. It was later discovered he had an undiagnosed sickle-cell trait.)

"This is when the going gets tough, you build them together, you fight together and you go find a way to get it done. That's where we're at. It's part of a turnaround process that's not going to be easy. Our team knows that. I know that. Our program knows that.

"But I got a guy that's the third-team left tackle from Rockridge High School that's got a Twitter account with 12 followers and he wants to put out how terrible we are. Alright? That's the way this society is, that we go and we read it and we think, 'Oh my gosh, Missouri football is -- we're this and we're that.'

"We haven't won yet, but I got a group of guys that went over to the hospital yesterday and took care of a kid. I'm building the future for this football team and this program and our kids' lives, that they're going to go be successful in the next 40 years of their life. They're going to have adversity in their life, and they're going to go back to this one and how they respond, so I'm good.

"I got a platform to be able to be able to go build it. I know what I got in this locker room, so we're going to win. That's going to happen. I want to fast forward a little bit longer, 2012, went to Memphis. Maybe the, historically, at that point was the worst program in the country. Alright, 2012 we won four games. Alright, 2013 we were a hell of a lot better, but we won three games, so everybody thought 'they went backwards,' but we didn't go backwards; we were better in a lot of spots.

"And then 2014 we were lined up and we won 10 games, won our bowl game, won a conference championship and at the end of the year there wasn't anybody in the damn country that wanted to play our ass. I guarantee it, because we were playing the way you're supposed to go play. It was a turnaround. Justin Fuente did it. I was a part of it.

"Then fast forward to 2015. That was a tough year. That built me for who I am today. That built our program. We're going to get there. That's the narrative. That's the turnaround. That's the state of our program. I'm disappointed, I'm frustrated -- all of the above, but I'm right where I want to be, building this team with a whole bunch of guys that want to go do it the right way -- the right way in every aspect of our organization.

"That's about all I got."

* * *

I’m thinking that's about all Barry Odom needs. To quote Johnny Majors after his Vols once lost five straight – “I may be three feet from hell but I’m headed in the opposite direction!”

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