HOOVER, Ala. (AP) First-year coach Barry Odom's goal of creating more stability at Missouri became more challenging Wednesday with the departure of athletic director Mack Rhoades.
The unexpected news made for an interesting SEC media day for the Tigers, who faced more questions about off-the-field issues than the on-the-field progress they're trying to make following a 5-7 season.
The 39-year-old Odom came to Hoover less than 24 hours after finding out Rhoades was leaving for the same job at Baylor. The Bears officially announced Rhoades' hire while Odom was standing on the stage Wednesday discussing the program's future.
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''I found out last night and didn't have any clue before then,'' Odom said. ''I respect Mack calling me and having the conversation.''
Odom was promoted in December after longtime coach Gary Pinkel retired and announced he was fighting cancer. Rhoades promoted Odom from defensive coordinator and gave him a five-year contract worth $2.35 million annually.
The coach said he wasn't worried about job security – only the results of the program moving forward.
''I know I've got a group of guys coming back that are anxious and excited about getting the 2016 season started,'' Odom said.
But first, Odom had to deal with the news of Rhoades' departure.
Rhoades was hired by Missouri 16 months ago, but much has changed since then. Student protests on campus over social issues and racial tensions spilled over into the athletic department last season when the football team essentially went on strike in support of the protesters, who were demanding the resignation of university systems president Tim Wolfe.
Pinkel and Rhoades stood by the players, who in the end didn't miss practice. Both the president and school chancellor, R. Bowen Loftin, resigned.
Missouri linebacker Michael Scherer, who was second on the team with 93 tackles last season, said the constant distractions aren't ideal, but they would cope with Rhoades' surprising departure just like everything else.
''What are you going to do about it?,'' Scherer said. ''I can't do anything to change it. Nobody here can do anything to change what's happened. 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.''
On the field, the Tigers have 13 starters returning from a team that finished with a 5-7 record, including a 1-7 mark in the SEC. Missouri especially struggled on offense, especially during the last half of the season, and averaged a league-low 13.6 points per game.
Sophomore Drew Lock returns after throwing for 1,332 yards, four touchdowns and eight interceptions. He completed just 49 percent of his passes.
While the offense is rebuilt, the Tigers might have to rely on their defense. Missouri has eight starters returning, including Scherer and Charles Harris, who led the SEC with 18 1/2 tackles for a loss last season.
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