Can Odom make UNLV football successful?

The former Missouri head coach is the latest to try and make the Rebels a winner on the gridiron.

LAS VEGAS — Barry Odom told the story of a brief visit to UNLV’s Fertitta Football Complex and while taking a one-man tour of the facility, he was spotted and was asked to leave.

Now, he can decide who comes and goes into the building.

Odom is taking over for Marcus Arroyo as UNLV’s head football coach after Arroyo was fired following a 5-7 season. He made it clear that the talent is there to be successful and he hopes the majority of Arroyo’s players will remain and use their key cards to enter the Fertitta Complex while using the transfer portal to fill in the gaps.

“I need everyone to stay,” Odom said. “They’re the core foundation of our program.”

When it was announced Tuesday afternoon that Odom, who had been the head coach for four years at Missouri and currently the defensive coordinator at Arkansas, was the man chosen by athletic director Erick Harper to get the Rebels over the hump, my initial reaction was, “Who?”

I thought it was a somewhat underwhelming choice, given some of the names that were out there. But using that famous football euphemism “Upon Further Review,” I remembered who Odom was from his days at Missouri and I’m starting to believe this actually might work.

He’ll have five years to prove me right. Odom is going to be paid $1.75 million in each of his first two years, then it kicks up to $2 million in each of the following two years and in 2027, he will earn $2.25 million.

That’s more than any football coach in UNLV’s history. Even the late Jerry Tarkanian, the greatest coach UNLV ever had in any sport, didn’t make that much. Tark maxed out at $600K.

Odom could make even more should he hit some of the bonuses. A couple are safe bets not to pay off, like $100,000 to win the national championship or coach in the College Football Playoff, even with an expanded 12-team format. But Odom should cash the bonus for being in a bowl game ($50,000), perhaps he can be the conference coach of the year which would be worth $25,000 and pick up $10,000 if the team’s Academic Progress Report number is 980 or higher and/or the team’s GPA is 3.0 or higher.

If I’m a UNLV football fan, I’m not caring whether the new coach won Wednesday’s introductory press conference (he did). I’m caring if he can prevent a further jailbreak to the transfer portal by Arroyo’s players, who could be cast members in a remake of “The Great Escape.”

He needed to win over quarterback Doug Brumfield, who is arguably the most talented player still in the program. Odom might have brought with him a video of Drew Lock, who Odom coached at Missouri and was the best QB in the nation back in 2017. That year, Lock passed for 3,964 yards and 44 touchdowns. Perhaps Odom can do that for Brumfield.

Apparently Brumfield liked what he heard and for now, he’s staying put, giving Odom his first win with the program.

He’ll also have to get his staff on board quickly, hit the transfer portal and convince enough good players to give Vegas a shot. Last year, over 3,000 football players entered the portal and more are likely to do so this year with already more than 1,000 testing the waters. If Odom and his staff can recruit a few of those discontented souls who can block, tackle and run, maybe UNLV doesn’t take the huge step back that many believe will be the case.

I know there are many UNLV fans who are not happy with Harper and this decision. But if you were paying attention when he fired Arroyo on Nov. 28, he made it clear what he was looking for:

  • Someone with head coaching experience. Check.
  • Someone who has gone to bowl games. Check.
  • Someone who might still be coaching in a bowl. Check (Though Odom won’t coach Arkansas in its bowl game.)

And let’s remember something else. Despite the fact Odom will be the highest-paid football coach in UNLV history, his salary numbers fall far short of what it would’ve taken to lure Gary Patterson from Texas or get Chris Petersen to come out of retirement Or try to match Colorado’s $5 million per to Deion Sanders. 

Those guys were never coming to UNLV to work for $2 million. That’s just the reality. The truth is, not everyone can afford to go shopping at Harry Winston for diamonds. Sometimes you have to go to a less expensive store to find the right piece at the right price.

What Harper is hoping is he found a diamond in the rough, that Odom wants to show Missouri it made a mistake letting him go in 2019 after playing .500 football overall in the Southeastern Conference, arguably the nation’s toughest league. Odom will find it easier to butt heads with Brady Hoke, Craig Bohl and Jeff Tedford instead of Nick Saban, Kirby Smart and Brian Kelly.

He’ll also be looking to connect with the high school football community in Southern Nevada and also have a good working relationship with those who cover UNLV football. Those goals will take time but are certainly attainable. But Odom recruited Southern Nevada while at Arkansas so he has some established relationships with some coaches here in Las Vegas. His initial contact with the media was positive, as expected, and he came across as bright, congenial and energetic.

Odom will benefit from having excellent facilities to work in and recruit to. In addition to the Fertitta Football Complex, which is one of the nation’s best, the Rebels play at Allegiant Stadium, which will host the Super Bowl in 2024. Need I say more?

“We talked about leadership and about community,” UNLV President Dr. Keith Whitfield said of the process in eventually electing to hire Odom. “I think we found that with our new coach. We found the perfect fit.”

If you want me to grade Harper for what he himself said was the biggest hire of his brief tenure as AD, I would say “Incomplete” but in a positive way. The jury’s going to be out and while the public is not going to give Odom a grace period and he better hit the ground running, the fact is he knows how to handle running a football program and he’s not looking for a break-in period.

“I feel the urgency to win and win now,” Odom said.

Odom deserves a chance. When it’s all said and done, this may turn out to have been a brilliant hire and assuming he’s still here, Harper may be trying to find the money to keep Odom around rather than conduct yet another search after yet another losing tenure.

The last time UNLV got involved with someone named Odom, the school’s basketball program was put on probation by the NCAA and the coach was fired.

Let’s hope for the university’s sake things go better this time around.



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