Eli’s Coming! Coach Drinkwitz Didn’t Need Mizzou. Missouri Needed Coach Drinkwitz.

Missouri introduced Eli Drinkwitz as the new football coach today.

Let me get this out of the way up front: I’m way up with the hire.

Love it, actually.

Drinkwitz, who comes to CoMo after a 12-win season at Appalachian State, is a veritable football scholar with a bright offensive mind. He has a proven record of scheming offenses that produce bushels of points.

By every accounting Drinkwitz is a relentless worker, buzzing with energy. Given his personality and drive and ambition, I see no reason to think he’ll be a dud at recruiting.

Drinkwitz has a winning pedigree that includes excellent mentors such as Guz Malzahn, Gene Chizik, Bryan Harsin and Chris Petersen.

I have a different view of this hiring than many others. There’s a lot of equivocating out there. I see and hear a lot of folks trying to have it both ways by expressing cautious approval of this Mizzou coaching move — while also making sure to add the predictable pearl clutching over the coach’s young age (36) and perceived shortage in experience.

And that’s fine. It’s human nature.

I just don’t feel compelled to do that in this case.

This is a different kind of hire for Mizzou — and an exciting hire at that. I’m not one of these people that demanded a “big name” coach … or some “established” coach — whatever the hell that means.

All of this fussing over getting a “big name.” Good grief. Barry Odom was tied for the lowest salary in the SEC, Missouri has the smallest individual-donor base in the SEC, and football revenue and attendance have been lagging over the past five seasons.

At least the MU administration (and boosters?) ponied up this time to put worthy money on the table for their new coach. They had no choice. But this $4 million annual salary for Drinkwitz is hardly an outrageous, over-the-top sum. The compensation is just more in line with modern times. Mizzou took a step closer to emerging from the college football Ice Age.

That’s a plus. And as long as Drinkwitz receives the necessary support — and that’s a substantial question — he’ll do well in this gig. I say that for a simple reason … just follow his career; this young coach has been successful at every turn. That isn’t a coincidence.

Drinkwitz worked as an assistant at Auburn (2010-2011), Arkansas State (2012-2013), Boise State (2014-2015) and N.C. State before becoming head coach at Appalachian State last season to succeed the departed Scott Satterfield, who jumped to Louisville.

Including Appalachian State, the programs that have paid Drinkwitz to coach football had a .742 winning percentage during his time on the staff — either as a position coach, offensive coordinator, or HC.

That includes an 8-1 record in bowl games.

And, of course, being part of the Auburn operation that captured the BCS Championship.

The teams that paid Drinkwitz have also been ranked 50 times in the weekly AP Poll.

When you’ve been part of so much winning at five different programs … that’s the kind of experience we should appreciate. And want.

It’s strange to see the usual misplaced snobbery on display again, with some (not all)  fans and media suggesting that Mizzou is taking a big chance on Drinkwitz, who comes to MU with that single year of head coaching next to his name.

Sorry, but I have the opposite view:

Mizzou isn’t taking a big chance on Drinkwitz.

Drinkwitz is taking a  big  chance  on  Mizzou.

Among other things, he’s leaving an Appalachian State program that’s superior to Mizzou’s.

You can go ahead and dispute that; doesn’t bother me.

All I know is this: App State is ranked 20th in the nation.

Mizzou? Well, I don’t see 6-6 Mizzou listed in the  rankings.

The last time Mizzou appeared in the top 20?

That would be the end of the 2014 season.

Drinkwitz has Appalachian State there now.

Appalachian State (12-1) has been ranked among the AP top 25 teams in  seven  different weeks this season alone.

Mizzou has been ranked among the AP top 25 teams  six  times … over the LAST FIVE SEASONS.

And just because a coach has only been a head coach for one year, it doesn’t mean he’s unprepared for this role. (More on that later.)

Drinkwitz is putting his rising-star trajectory on the line by signing on with a puzzlingly dull program and entering a campus culture that’s historically dysfunctional, lacking in passionate support, under financed, often petty, and unusually political. A culture where the sparring and sniping is shamelessly aired in public, which leaves a terrible impression.

There’s also a bizarre element of haughtiness; too many Mizzou fans refuse to grasp the obvious about their program and MU’s place in the sport.

This should be a terrific job. It should be a coveted job. It’s a job that’s held — for decades– significant potential. And I really want to believe these things. I still do. I’m not giving up on this. But Mizzou’s collective defeatist attitude — which has been going on for far too long — is carcinogenic.

And when you look at the reality on the ground — the constant unrest, infighting, power grabs, and the recent undercutting of the athletic director Jim Sterk during the early coaching search — it’s affirmation that the hazard lights are still flashing. And that’s really a shame, because Mizzou should be so much better than this.

Since the glory days of the wonderful Dan Devine — his final season at Mizzou was 1970 — Gary Pinkel was the only football coach to tame this beast. Al Onofrio and Warren Powers had their moments, yes. But Pinkel’s lifted Mizzou out of the sewer. His impressive legacy is secure — no matter how many hopelessly dumb goobers malign his body of work as the leader of the Tigers from 2001 through ‘15. (That, an example of the loony-tunes Mizzou haughtiness I mentioned earlier.)

I’m glad that Drinkowitz was willing to put his career at risk by having the confidence and boldness to take on the Mizzou job and all of that comes with it.

A couple of things:

1–Yes, Drinkwitz inherited a successful program, one elevated by Satterfield. You know, kind of like Ryan Day at Ohio State and Lincoln Riley at Oklahoma. I don’t seem anyone disparaging those two outstanding young coaches because they took over a super program and made it stronger.

That’s what Drinkwitz did this season at Appalachian State. Satterfield never went 12-1 there. And in five seasons with Satterfield as HC, the Mountaineers were ranked only one time, in one week. (No. 25 on Oct. 21, 2018.) Yep. Just one week in five seasons.

2–I don’t get the anxiety over Drinkwitz being “only” 36 years old. He’ll be 37 when Mizzou plays its first game in 2020. He’ll be older than Devine when Devine coached his first game at Mizzou. Feel better now?

But seriously … why the hell is this such a hangup for so many people?

Mr. Devine was 32 when he got his first HC job … and 34 in his first season as Mizzou’s head coach.

Don Faurot was 31 in his first season as MU’s head coach. MU named the field after him.

Notably:

♦ Lincoln Riley: age 34 as Oklahoma’s rookie head coach in 2017. And he’d never been an HC before then. Promoted within after Bob Stoops retired. Speaking of Stoops: he was 39 when he became Oklahoma’s head coach; had never been an HC.
♦ Ryan Day, age 39 when promoted within to replace the ailing Urban Meyer.
♦ Mike Norvell — the hottest coaching candidate on this year’s market — was 34 when Memphis named him head coach. He’d never been an HC. Now he’s on the way to Florida State.
♦ Dabo Swinney, promoted within, was 39 when Clemson elevated him to the head-coach job. Before then he’d never been a coordinator, let alone an HC.
♦ P.J. Fleck: a first-time head coach at 33 (Western Michigan) who was hired as HC by Minnesota at age 37. He’s done fine, yes?
♦ Mike Leach was 38 when Texas Tech made him a first-time head coach.
♦ Dick Vermeil was 38 when UCLA made him a first-time HC.
♦ James Franklin was 39 when he became a first-time HC at Vanderbilt. And he won. At Vandy. In the SEC.
♦ Jimmy Johnson was 36 as a first-time HC at Oklahoma State.
♦ Lou Holtz and Mack Brown each took their first head-coaching jobs at age 32. Jackie Sherrill was age 33.

Other legends:

Bear Bryant, a first-time head coach (at Maryland) at age 32. An SEC head coach (Kentucky) at 34.
Joe Paterno, first-time HC (Penn STate at 39.
Vince Dooley, age 32, when Georgia hired him as a first-time HC.
Tom Osborne became a first-time head coach at Nebraska at age 36.
Bobby Dodd, Georgia Tech, a first-time HC at 35.
Nick Saban, age 39 when Toledo gave him his first HC job.
Bud Wilkinson had never been a head coach until Oklahoma hired him for the job at age 31 … 31!
Woody Hayes had his first head-coaching gig at 33, and his first power-conference HC job at age 38 … at Ohio State, no less.
Bo Schembechler: age 34 (Miami-Ohio) and age 40 (Michigan.)
General Robert Neyland, age 34, as a first-time HC at Tennessee. The Volunteers play their games at Neyland Stadium.
The first great Alabama coach, Frank Thomas, was 33 when the Crimson Tide hired him.
John Vaught, who won big at Ole Miss, was 38 when hired as a first-time HC. Ole Miss named the stadium in his honor.

And this isn’t a complete list.

As you can see…

Young head coaches have been hired during all generations of college football. They’ve been recruited, and given an opportunity, in every era.

And in today’s game — given the exhausting demands of the new system, with two recruiting periods, instead of one — a young coach is wired for the more intense workload and nonstop chasing of talent.

But this really isn’t about age.

It’s about finding a coach that has the intelligence, confidence, creativity … a coach who has people skills and passion … who understands what it takes to win and keep winning. Someone that can sell, sell, sell.  Drinkwitz checks enough of those boxes. A coach that has considerable upside, instead of being in the safe and bland middle — or on the downside of his career.

And now this young coach needs everyone who cares about Mizzou football to get behind him instead of nitpicking his resume for imaginary flaws.

And for goodness sake, quit quarreling over Jim Sterk and  whether Drinkwitz was his choice, or the result of an intervention by board members.

The Tigers have a dynamic presence to lead the football operation now.  This boring, underachieving program is fortunate to have him. And instead of feeling cheerful about that, we’re immediately pivoting into shouting  for the dismissal of the  athletic director?

So freaking typical.

Mizzou gonna Mizzou.

Drinkwitz is a sharp guy so I’m thinking he understands what he’s signed on for.

At least I hope so.

You want a big name? Great. Keep waiting for the big name. People who are clamoring for a big name are essentially admitting that they don’t have a clue about college football and are incapable of evaluating coaches who aren’t established stars … the same people who are profoundly ignorant of CFB history and the substantial number of future-star coaches that were hired at a young age, and with no prior HC experience.

Drinkwitz comes to this CoMo salvage operation with more HC experience that Day had before taking over at Ohio State, or Riley before Oklahoma handed him the Sooner wagon, or Dabo at Clemson, or Norvell (who?) at Memphis. Oh, yeah … and more prior HC experience than some of the greatest coaches in the sport’s history.

This doesn’t mean Drinkwitz will kick ass, and become a legend.

What I’m saying is this: it’s absolutely stupid to rip this hiring simply because of his age.

Big name?

I’ll take this dude … the one with the funky last name.

I’m good with a having an energetic, magnetic, creative and aggressive young coach who can MAKE his name bigger by making Mizzou matter — and a helluva lot more relevant and fun in the SEC. And if Drinkwitz fails, it will likely happen because Missouri failed him. That’s the history of this job. But enough with that. He’s here, and I’m planning for success. Drinkwitz up. Drink up.

Thanks for reading…

–Bernie