For former UMBC men’s basketball head coach Ryan Odom, leaving the program for a new opportunity wasn’t an easy decision.
Odom always believed he wouldn’t leave the program unless the next opportunity was something special. Becoming the next head coach at Utah State was exactly that opportunity for Odom.
He now transitions from the America East Conference to the Mountain West Conference, a step up in the level of competition. Odom is taking over for Craig Smith, who coached the Aggies for three consecutive winning seasons and was recently hired by Utah.
“It was a hard day to have to tell my team and our team that we were going to be moving on,” Odom said on Glenn Clark Radio April 21. “I always said if I left UMBC it would be for a place that I felt was special and had a chance to do something special.”
There are several factors which drew Odom out west. However, one of the most enticing was the program’s tradition of winning. The Aggies have established a winning culture during the last 25 seasons in Logan, Utah, with 11 NCAA Tournament appearances during that time.
Additionally, Utah State has produced pros of late. Former Aggies guard Sam Merrill is now in the NBA with the Milwaukee Bucks, while center Neemias Queta entered his name into the 2021 NBA Draft.
“The tradition is extremely strong here. This program since 2000 is one of about 20 in the country that’s had 11 NCAA Tournaments during that amount of time,” Odom said. “The others are Gonzaga, Duke and Kentucky and teams like that have had that many NCAA Tournaments in a short amount of time.”
An added benefit of coaching at Utah State is the rabid and passionate fan base that makes the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum one of the toughest atmospheres in college basketball. The Aggies fans consistently pack the Spectrum and are known for their electric “I believe that we will win” chant.
Reflecting back on his time at UMBC, Odom is proud of all that the team accomplished during his five-year tenure, during which he posted a 97-60 record. He finished with a winning record in four out of his five seasons. In 2016-17, he led the program to an above-.500 record for the first time since the 2007-08 season.
Odom’s most notable win came during the 2018 NCAA Tournament when the Retrievers took down No. 1 seed Virginia, becoming the first No. 16 seed ever to defeat a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
That win endeared Odom and the Retrievers’ program to the entire sports world but isn’t the only success he had in Baltimore. UMBC also won the America East regular-season title this past season.
“I’m really proud of the overall program, because it is a program now and it’s a program that folks are proud of,” Odom said.
The 2021 regular-season title is one of Odom’s fondest memories outside of the historic upset against Virginia. In order to clinch a share of the regular-season title, UMBC needed to defeat Vermont Feb. 19. The Retrievers did exactly that in a 66-55 win after dropping the first game to the Catamounts the day before.
“That next game there was a little bit of pressure. We had to win that game in order to have a share of the title,” Odom said. “When I first took the job at UMBC we wanted to compete for championships. Whether it was a tournament championship or regular season championship, that’s what we wanted to go for.”
Taking over for Odom at UMBC is former Penn State and Duquesne head coach Jim Ferry. Ferry spent the 2020-21 season serving as the interim head coach at Penn State and led the Nittany Lions to wins against several ranked opponents.
“I’ve got the utmost respect for him and he’s obviously won a ton of games in his career,” Odom said. “I know he’s going to do a great job there, he and his staff of building it and continuing to build it in a really tough conference.”
Entering his first season with the Aggies, Odom will be joined by two familiar faces, as guard R.J. Eytle-Rock and forward Brandon Horvath followed their coach to Utah State. Eytle-Rock and Horvath were the Retrievers’ two leading scorers last season, averaging 14.3 and 13.1 points, respectively. They were two of the top three rebounders on the team as well.
Despite moving 2,000-plus miles across the country, Odom fondly reflected on the time he and his family spent at UMBC.
“We’ll always be Retrievers for life,” Odom said, “and we’ll always be pulling for the Dawgs.”
For more from Odom, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Courtesy of UMBC Athletics