Ryan Odom has something on his resume that no other current or past college head coach has on his: An NCAA Tournament victory over a No. 1 seed while coaching a No. 16 seed.
But other than the University of Maryland, Baltimore County’s historic upset of Virginia in the 2018 NCAA Tournament, there’s probably not a whole lot that the average Utah State basketball fans knows about the Logan university’s new head coach.
Certainly, the last name rings a bell. Ryan Odom is, indeed, the son of longtime basketball coach Dave Odom, who won a total of 402 games over 22 seasons at Wake Forest, South Carolina and East Carolina and guided the Demon Deacons to the Elite Eight in the 1996 NCAA Tournament.
But having spent his entire 24-year coaching career at schools near the East Coast, the 46-year-old Ryan Odom is certainly a fresh face in the western United States. And yet, USU athletic director John Hartwell is confident that Odom is the right man to replace Craig Smith, who left for Utah after going 74-24 in his three seasons at the helm of the Aggies.
“We are beyond excited to announce Ryan Odom as Utah State’s new men’s basketball head coach,” Hartwell said in a statement released by the university Monday afternoon. “We had great interest from many qualified candidates, and Ryan quickly distinguished himself as the clear choice.
“Ryan has a proven track record of accomplishments with his student-athletes, both in the classroom and on the court, and we are confident he will continue to elevate the success of our Aggie basketball program.”
Odom comes to USU after going 97-60 over five seasons as the head coach at UMBC. The Retrievers played just 20 games in 2020-21, finishing 14-6 overall and tied for first place in the America East Conference. The Retrievers lost to UMass Lowell in semifinals of the AEC postseason tourney, 79-77, but Odom was named the conference coach of the year after guiding UMBC to its first first-place finish since 2007-08.
“My family and I are thrilled to be joining Utah State University and the Cache Valley community,” Odom said in a statement. “With President (Noelle) Cockett and Vice President John Hartwell, there is an outstanding foundation and great leadership, and I can’t tell you how excited we are to experience ‘The HURD,’ and build upon the storied history and recent success of Aggie basketball.”
Odom took over a UMBC program that had gone 7-25 in 2015-16 and immediately turned things around, finishing 21-13 in 2016-17 and 25-11 in 2017-18.
Of course, the most significant win of Odom’s tenure — and arguably the biggest upset in the history of college basketball — was the Retrievers’ stunning 74-54 rout of Virginia, the top overall seed in the 2018 NCAA Tournament.
At the time, No. 16 seeds were 0-135 against No. 1 seeds in the tournament, but Odom’s squad broke away from a 21-21 tie to score 53 second-half points against the Cavaliers’ vaunted defense.
“Unbelievable,” Odom said after the game. “So proud of these kids. I take so much joy in watching them smile, not just at the end there but throughout the game. I think it’s pretty easy to tell these guys have passion. These guys love to play this game. This game means a lot to them. It was just a special, special effort.”
Needless to say, UMBC — like Utah State with Smith — found it difficult to lose Odom to another program, but it is appreciative of what its former coach did for the school and the basketball program.
“It is difficult to say goodbye to someone who has meant so much to this athletics department and to this university,” UMBC athletic director Brian Barrio said. “But Ryan Odom, by helping elevate this program to a new level of expectations and success, has certainly left UMBC Retriever men’s basketball in a better place than where he found it. That is the most important thing we can ask of any coach in their tenure here.
Ryan has led our program with integrity and passion, and he has given UMBC students and alumni the absolute signature moment in our athletics’ history to date. We wish him all the best in his next challenge at Utah State.”
Ironically, USU guard Marco Anthony knows a little bit about Odom, primarily because he was a member of the Cavaliers team that lost to Odom’s Retrievers in 2018 before going on to win the national championship in 2019. Anthony, who didn’t see action in Virginia’s loss to UMBC, will certainly be one of the Aggies Odom tries to make certain sticks around for the 2021-22 season.
Junior center Neemias Queta has already announced that he will make himself eligible for the NBA draft, and senior forward Alphonso Anderson and senior center Kuba Kawowski are planning to leave as grad transfers.
A couple of days after Smith was hired by Utah on March 27, forward Justin Bean posted a video on social media that proclaimed he would be back with the Aggies for his senior season. And shortly after Odom’s hire was announced on Twitter Monday afternoon, Bean replied with “Let’s gooooo!!!!”
Guards Rollie Worster and Stephen Ashworth played big roles for the Aggies last season as freshmen, while shooting guard Brock Miller is likely to return for his senior year along with backup center Trevin Dorius. But in the age of the transfer portal, anything can happen to a team’s roster in the offseason, especially one undergoing a coaching change.
Last season, UMBC finished second in the America East in scoring offense (69.6 ppg) and fourth in scoring defense (64.9 ppg), but first in the league in defensive field goal percentage (.397) and fourth in offensive field goal percentage (.439). The Retrievers were also third in 3-point field goal percentage (.341), fifth in 3-point field goals per game (7.0) and third in rebound margin (+2.5 rpg)
The 20th head basketball coach in USU history, Odom also served as the head coach at Divison II Lenior-Rhyne in 2015-16, going 21-10 before being hired at UMBC. Odom’s only other head coaching experience came at Charlotte in 2014-15 when he took over for head coach Alan Major, who had to take a medical leave of absence, and the 49ers finished 8-11 during Odom’s brief interim stint.
After playing point guard for four years at Hampden-Sydney College, a Division III school in Virginia, Odom started his coaching career in 1996 as a graduate assistant at South Florida. Over the next 18 years, Odom served as an assistant at Furman, UNC Asheville, American, Virginia Tech and Charlotte.
Odom’s seven-year stint at Virginia Tech as an assistant to Seth Greenberg ran from 2003-10, and it included a trip to the NCAA Tournament in 2007 and a win over Illinois in the first round.
Odom and his wife, Lucia, have two sons, Connor and Owen.