BY MIKE McCALL
October 14, 2012
ATLANTA — At halftime of Saturday’s Atlanta Classic, Southern interim coach Dawson Odums had his work cut out for him.
The Jaguars had played a sloppy and sluggish first half, with four punts, two turnovers and only 94 yards of offense. They trailed Florida A&M 7-0, with the lone score coming after a fumble led to an easy Rattlers touchdown.
At that point, it was eerily similar to Southern’s 6-0 loss against Mississippi Valley State two weeks earlier — the kind of performance that has already proven deadly to an SU coaching career.
Not that a negative result would have cost Odums his job, but he and the Jaguars were well on their way to losing the momentum they had built in a win at Jackson State. They were in dire need of a second-half turnaround.
“I asked them at halftime to repeat after me, ‘We won’t lose,’ ” Odums said. “Then I asked them to go out and prove it.”
For the second week in a row, Odums’ players proved him right, beating FAMU 21-14 and providing further backing to the idea that he should perhaps remain as Southern’s head coach on a permanent basis.
While that kind of decision is still a long way away, Odums is making a very strong case.
In just two weeks at the helm, he has notched back-to-back wins — a feat his predecessor didn’t accomplish in 24 games — and given a group of players and fans something that was all but lost when he took over: hope.
He has done that in a few ways.
First came the renewed atmosphere at practice, which could also be chalked up that unsettling loss to Valley. There was more discipline and more hustle, both of which have showed up during games.
Perhaps the biggest step was freeing his assistants to do more coaching, adhering to a belief that a variety of voices and input would lead to more success. And lastly, after all the fire, brimstone and new rules, came the belief.
That was Odums’ message at halftime, and it’s a familiar refrain from his post-practice speeches as well.
And whether the players were buying it or not at first, they’re sold now.
Just as the last two wins over rivals gave Southern’s fan base a shot in the arm, they’ve been a boost to the players as well. They’re walking around with a lot more confidence, and a little of that I-told-you-so edge for those who doubted they’d right the ship.
In some cases, that leads to complacency, but the Jaguars weren’t anywhere near that during Saturday’s win in the Georgia Dome. As Rattlers coach Joe Taylor said, Southern played with more fire and out-hustled his group.
And in the words of quarterback Dray Joseph, the Jaguars are playing the way they were supposed to when the season began.
It’s amazing how much a team can change with a little pep in its step, and it’s very clear that Odums has delivered the pep.
Where Southern goes from this point is anyone’s guess. But the Jaguars, only a half-game out of first place in their division, still control their fate in the Southwestern Athletic Conference title race.
Many improvements still need to be made, but with the way Odums has his players believing right now, it wouldn’t be a total shock to see “We won’t lose” hold up for the rest of the season.