By Corey Johns, So Much Sports Baltimore
“I’m not a savior. I’m just going to do my job and work hard every day and give it my best effort,” new UMBC men’s basketball head coach Ryan Odom said when he sat down with the media after his official introduction on Thursday afternoon.
From just a few moments of hearing him talk, it is very clear that Odom is a nice, humble guy and willing to invest time to help UMBC grow as a program, probably even for the long term and not just as a short-term stepping stone.
That was one of the things that UMBC Director of Athletics mentioned in his introduction as a quality he was looking for when embarking on his coaching hire. He wanted to find somebody committed to helping a mid-major with high academic standards grow.
Odom certainly did wonders at Lenoir-Rhyne last year before he moved on to UMBC. And it was clear from his teary eyes how much the people and players at that program meant to him and how hard it was to leave. But Odom’s arrival to UMBC is a breath of fresh air.
Aki Thomas was as nice of a guy as they come, but he was only an extension of Randy Monroe’s system, who lead UMBC to an America East Championship and to the NCAA Tournament in 2008, but he was only an extension of his predecessor Tom Sullivan, who he was an assistant under starting in 1994.
This is not to say there has not been success for over 20 years, or that there have not been different styles and personalities among the coaching staff, but this is the first time in a long time it’s been a completely new group brought in, by a new Athletic Director.
It’s a fresh start for a program that arguably reached rock bottom as they failed to reach double-digit wins for a seventh-straight season. And with a new $95 million Events Center coming in two years, a new coach and new direction, UMBC is on their way to turning things around.
“There has been success here before,” Odom said. “It’s happened before and I’m confident it can happen again. You got to look at all the things UMBC has to offer, the leadership, the new arena and the recruiting footprint. All of that gives you a fighting chance. Then you got to put the talent out there, coach them up, get them better and have a little luck at times too.”
Hall said he’s known of Odom for a while, so when he made a decision to make a coaching change he did not have to dig too deep to find him. Odom fit all of his qualities he wanted: “someone who has had success coaching, somebody who has demonstrated success at turning a program around, somebody who understands the type of university this is in terms of high academics and that it affects who you recruit and toward that end, somebody who has the right connections.”
When the job at UMBC opened up, Odom said UMBC’s administration “reached out to Lenoir-Rhyne in proper fashion.” His former school was supportive that Odom “investigate it.” It was a pretty short investigation too. Odom began to talk with Hall and other members of the hiring committee, that also featured women’s basketball coach Phil Stern, swimming and diving coach Chad Cradock and former UMBC player and conference champion Brian Hodges, among others.
And that $95 million arena coming, Odom could not stress enough how important that was in his decision to take the job.
“I’ve been very impressed with the RAC and pleasantly surprised with the other facilities, but when you’re talking about spending $95 million and having every competitive advantage as possible, that’s investing and that tells me they are serious and that is something I want to be a part of without a doubt.”
And that new arena is also why this hire is such an important one for UMBC. Odom has to start generating some excitement around the basketball team again. The consistent losing year-after-year took away everything the 2008 championship built. The second-level of seating was rarely ever opened up for fans the past few years. Last year the highest attendance was 1,247 for a game. When UMBC was at it’s best the games would sell out the 4,024 spectator seating capacity. The new events center will have over 5,000 permanent seats.
Odom led Lenoir-Rhyne to a 13-win turnaround and into the Division II NCAA Tournament last year. UMBC probably won’t be turned around that quickly, but his fast-paced offense that was top 10 in the nation at the Division II level, averaging 90.1 ppg, most certainly should make for some exciting basketball to watch.