Former University of Arkansas defensive coordinator Barry Odom was named the 13th head coach at UNLV on Dec. 6, but his fondness for Razorbacks Coach Sam Pittman, the Hogs and the state remains strong.
"I wasn't looking to leave because I think the program is a special place and it's that way for a number of reasons," Odom said. "A lot of it starts with the fan base, the passion, the energy, the support. It's as great of a place I've ever been around."
Odom joined Pittman's Fayetteville staff in December of 2019 after previously being let go as the head coach at Missouri following four seasons. The two coaches had forged a friendship and admiration for one another through the years.
"I tried to hire him at least twice on my staff at Missouri," Odom said. "I joke with him that I could never afford him, but I always had a lot of respect for him. Just really a genuine guy. It's hard to find in today's world in most lines of work, but what you see is what you get.
"He had enough old-school toughness and qualities and values that I wanted to be a part of it, and I thought we could work really well together, and I wanted to try and help him. He's done a tremendous job, and I'm so happy for his success and Arkansas' success because the place deserves that."
Odom had other job opportunities come his way while in Fayetteville, but he enjoyed working for Pittman and respected the culture Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek had created in Fayetteville.
"I thought we had a good team coming back, and I liked the recruiting classes we put together, so I think it's on the rise, and I think they're going to compete for championships," said Odom, who greeted Arkansas softball Coach Courtney Deifel when the Razorbacks opened the season in Las Vegas in early February.
Pittman later visited Odom on the UNLV campus on Feb. 16 while in town for a speaking engagement.
When UNLV Athletic Director Erick Harper reached out to Odom, he had instant interest.
"I knew enough about this place from the last four or five years," Odom said. "I've been out here recruiting and I had seen some of the layout of the facilities. There's great opportunity here."
Harper's football background of playing defensive back for legendary Kansas State Coach Bill Snyder and Odom getting to know him while Harper served as associate athletics director for football operations at Arizona from 2003-11 played a big role in Odom accepting the job.
"I think that's really important, it was for me in taking the job," said Odom, whose Rebels play in the state-of-the-art Allegiant Stadium. "You wanted to line up with the AD's position and his vision of what he wanted the program to be, and the first conversation he and I had, we hit it off."
The two met the day before Odom was officially named as the Rebels coach.
"It happened quick, I had a lengthy interview with Mr. Harper and it went well into the night," Odom said.
UNLV defensive coordinator Michael Scherer was recruited and played for Odom at Missouri and joined the support staff in Columbia, Mo., after his playing days and followed Odom to Fayetteville with the last two seasons as linebackers coach.
"He has a great football mind, he's a great leader," Odom said. "Connects well with people and is a tremendous teacher. There's a trust factor I have. I think he'll be a head coach at some point of his career."
While focused on Rebel football and spring practice, Odom reflected on some of his more cherished moments in Fayetteville. Shortly after being hired by Pittman, the head Hog stuck his head into Odom's office and asked if he wanted to go for walk. The walks were in the 30-minute range and lasted for about a year.
"We did talk program stuff at times, but we also talked about life and friendships and being on a boat, fishing and horse races," Odom said. "I don't know if he got anything out of it, I got a whole lot out of it. It was a great mental escape and was able to really connect. Those were fun. He is a funny, funny guy."
Watching the players celebrate the victory at Mississippi State in 2020 to end a 20-game SEC losing streak will always be remembered by Odom.
"If they could bottle up that emotion and that feeling and sell it [to] everybody in the world, everybody would be trying to get it," Odom said.
The week leading up to the Texas game in 2021 and then the 40-21 victory was another special experience.
"They played with the passion and the energy of the entire state," he said. "It was tremendous to watch."
Seeing Hayden Henry, Grant Morgan, John Ridgeway, Markell Utsey and Montaric Brown close out their careers with a win over Penn State in the Outback Bowl was also a special moment for Odom.
"Seeing them win a bowl game knowing what they had poured into the program, I was really, really excited for them," he said.
Odom's appreciation of his time at Arkansas has him planning to come back as his career winds down.
"The way myself and my family were embraced, I'll never forget," Odom said. "Someday long from now if I ever retire, I know we'll have a house somewhere in the state of Arkansas because it's just a tremendous place for myself and our family."