Willie Fritz's ties to the state of Missouri help put him at the top of the list of candidates for the Tigers' job
Missouri parted ways with head coach Barry Odom on Sunday, two days after the Tigers beat Arkansas to finish the season at 6-6. Odom went 25-25 in his four seasons as head coach, including a 13-19 mark in SEC play.
Missouri made two bowl appearances in Odom's tenure and won enough games to be eligible this season but a postseason ban handed down by the NCAA earlier this year stemming from an academic scandal involving several sports prevented the Tigers from going bowling. Missouri appealed the NCAA's decision, but that was denied with the organization reaffirming its decision in late November.
Odom, a tackling machine as a linebacker for Missouri from 1996-99, has spent all but three seasons of his coaching career at his alma mater. He was beloved by his players and well respected by his peers. Now the question becomes, where does Missouri go next for its head coach?
Athlon polled a group of editors and college football contributors to find out who their pick would be if the decision was theirs to make. As you can see below, one name is clearly favored by this panel.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
This decision should be very easy for Missouri athletic director Jim Sterk: Hire Willie Fritz. The Kansas native has been a successful head coach at Blinn College, Central Missouri, Sam Houston State, Georgia Southern, and Tulane. Fritz inherited a program in need of repair when he took over the Green Wave in 2016 but showed steady improvement over the last two years with a 13-12 mark since 2018. The 13 victories may not seem like much, but Tulane is one of the tougher jobs in the AAC. At every stop in his coaching career, Fritz seems to get the most out of the roster and knows how to maximize talent. Additionally, he's also showed the willingness to adapt after hiring a new play-caller and adjusting his offensive scheme at Tulane prior to the 2019 season.
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
My first call as the decision-maker at Missouri would be to Willie Fritz, the head coach at Tulane. Fritz is a highly respected coach who has enjoyed success at every stop — from the junior college ranks (two national titles at Blinn Community College) to Division II (97-47 in 13 years at Central Missouri) to FCS (40-15 in two years at Sam Houston State) to FBS (17-7 in two years at Georgia Southern and 22-27 in three-plus years at Tulane). Yes, his record at Tulane isn't great, but that is one of the more difficult jobs in the country, and he clearly has the Green Wave on an upward trajectory; they are bowl eligible in back-to-back seasons for the first time since the late 1990s. Fritz's ties to the area (he is from the Kansas City suburbs and coached high school ball in the area and also spent those 13 years at Central Missouri) are a plus, but he would be a good fit at Missouri even if he had never set foot in the state.
Rob Doster (@AthlonDoster)
Willie Fritz spent 13 seasons as the head coach at Division II Central Missouri, where he went 97-47 and won a conference title. Since then, he's won big at Sam Houston State and Georgia Southern and built Tulane into a respectable AAC program, with bowl appearances the last two seasons. Missouri would represent a homecoming of sorts and would give the 59-year-old Fritz a chance to finish out his career in the sport's premier conference. It's inevitable that a Power 5 school is going to snap this guy up at some point; Missouri shouldn't miss this opportunity.
Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR)
When it comes to Missouri, I think the wisest move is to bring in someone who has dealt with similar circumstances when it comes to rebuilding a program. Bill Clark took over UAB in 2014 only to see the school decide to eliminate its football program less than a year later. Instead of leaving, Clark stuck around and led the relaunch with the Blazers returning to the field in 2017. Since then, UAB has gone 28-11 and won back-to-back Conference USA West Division titles. Clark has spent his entire coaching career in Alabama, so he's familiar with the SEC's footprint when it comes to recruiting. The circumstances Clark dealt with at UAB are worse than what he would be inheriting at Missouri, so I would love to see what he can do if given the chance to put his stamp on a higher-profile program.
Ben Weinrib (@benweinrib)
Missouri is not in a position to land one of the biggest coordinator names or poach a rival's coach, but as a team with recent success in the SEC, they should be able to land a strong candidate. One name they should focus in on is Tulane's Willie Fritz. He already has a local connection — his first head coaching job was at Central Missouri, where he had a 97-47 record from 1997-2009 — and has a history of turning around programs at each of his four stops. Fritz has been connected to several other Power 5 jobs, and the Tigers may need to act fast before losing a top target.
Antwan Staley (@antwanstaley)
The Missouri Tigers' coaching vacancy may not be as high profile as the Florida State opening, but it is a job in the SEC where the team has had some success since joining the conference.
A couple of names I would go after would be Memphis head coach Mike Norvell, Boise State's Bryan Harsin, and Wake Forest's Dave Clawson.
Norvell could have his choice of coaching opportunities as his name has come up with the Florida State opening as well as at Arkansas.
Harsin, although being on the West Coast, would be an intriguing candidate as he has brought Boise State to similar heights that Chris Petersen did before leaving for Washington.
Harsin would be my No. 1 candidate, but if he wasn't interested, Clawson would be an excellent choice. Beginning at Fordham through his time at Wake Forest, Clawson has won at every level including at Richmond and Bowling Green. He has shown he can win anywhere and there's no reason he can't do the same at Mizzou.
Juan Jose Rodriguez (@JuanJoseRG02)
Missouri athletic director Jim Sterk recently told CBS Sports' Dennis Dodd that he's looking for his next hire to possess a wealth of experience as either a coordinator or a head coach, which is where former Boston College head coach Steve Addazio fits nicely. After 16 seasons as an assistant — spanning the ACC (Syracuse), SEC (Florida), Big Ten (Indiana), and Notre Dame — Addazio was hired at Temple before the 2011 season, where he posted a 13-11 record in two seasons leading the Owls. He then headed to Boston College — where he spent the last seven seasons — and compiled a more-than-respectable 44-44 record in a conference where the top talent tends to steer far away from Chestnut Hill. In that span, he has posted five seven-win seasons and just one losing season.
In 2019, Missouri was one of the nation's most penalized teams (15th in penalty yards), and also was among the bottom third (94th) in total offense, both areas in which Addazio’s Eagles (seventh-fewest penalty yards, 28th in total offense) excelled last season. Addazio’s familiarity with Power 5 competition — and with numerous geographic areas, which bodes well for recruiting — makes him a very safe play for Missouri, yet one still with plenty of upside potential given his track record.
(Top photo courtesy of tulanegreenwave.com)