Mizzou football: Jim Sterk salvages near-disastrous coaching search by hiring Eliah Drinkwitz
When Mizzou fired Barry Odom, it was clear AD Jim Sterk needed to make a hire that would energize the fan base. There have been too many empty seats at Faurot Field and too much apathy from fans in recent years.
That’s the toll that repeated embarrassing and bad losses (Purdue in 2017, Kentucky and South Carolina in 2018 and Wyoming and Vanderbilt in 2019, just to name a few) take on fans, and Odom’s tenure saw too many for some to stomach.
So, needing to make a splashy hire that would reignite passion for Mizzou football, Sterk reportedly came to the Board of Curators with a 3-man list of … Arkansas State’s Blake Anderson, Army’s Jeff Monken and Louisiana Tech’s Skip Holtz. Uh … what?
Let it be known those are all solid coaches who do outstanding work, but they aren’t exactly the sort of guys who make you pump your fist and say “yeah!” Having Monken on the list was especially egregious, as he runs a triple-option offense. If you’re going to fire a .500 coach to bring in a guy who runs the triple-option, why even fire the original coach?
Again, Monken is a heck of a coach and his system has worked really well at Army, but Army doesn’t play in the SEC. If the rumors surrounding any of those 3 uninspiring candidates continued, and if the search itself stretched into Monday, I was going to write a column wondering if there was something Mizzou could learn from Tennessee’s 2017 search, during which then-Vol AD John Currie was replaced before making a hire.
Seriously, that’s how bad this search was trending.
Then, on Sunday … well, I’ll let Harry Dunne from “Dumb & Dumber” deliver my message to Sterk for me:
(For those of you who aren’t in a position to watch that video, Harry tells Lloyd, “Just when I think you couldn’t possibly be any dumber, you go and do something like this … and totally redeem yourself!”)
That is the perfect quote to sum up my feelings about Sterk’s decision to hire Eliah Drinkwitz away from Appalachian State — a decision formally announced Tuesday morning. I’m in, Jim. I love this move and can’t wait to see what the Drinkwitz era brings to Columbia!
Going into the search, I said that the Tigers needed someone who can recruit, someone who could energize the fan base and his players, and someone who came from an offensive background. Drinkwitz checks the latter 2 boxes, and we’ll find out soon enough about the recruiting.
Drinkwitz is only 36, and his youth should be an advantage with today’s players. We’ve seen numerous coaches in their mid-30s have success, and Drinkwitz has already had a high level of success. Even as recently as Saturday, he led the Mountaineers to a 45-38 victory in the Sun Belt title game.
As for recruiting, there’s reason for optimism. Drinkwitz is an Oklahoma native who played at Arkansas Tech and got his start as a high school coach in Arkansas. He also has stints at Auburn, Boise State, Arkansas State, NC State and Appalachian State on his résumé. The significance of that is many of those places are places Mizzou needs to be able to recruit in.
The Carolinas are an area where a number of great high school players are developed. Even on this year’s Mizzou roster, star RB Larry Rountree III is from North Carolina.
At those stops mentioned above, Drinkwitz led some pretty potent offenses. Appalachian State ranked No. 9 in scoring offense at the FBS level this year, scoring 39.4 points per game. But perhaps the biggest credit to his offensive brilliance comes from comparing the 2018 NC State offense to the 2019 NC State offense. (Drinkwitz was the Wolfpack’s offensive coordinator from 2016-2018).
In 2018, NC State ranked No. 31 in scoring, averaging 33.8 points per game. This year, the Wolfpack were No. 106 in scoring, dropping to only 22.1 points per game. Yes, they also had to replace QB Ryan Finley, but that’s a drastic drop-off.
He’ll have to hit the ground running when he gets to Columbia, as the Early Signing Period is rapidly approaching. Can he recruit at a level better than Odom? Odom’s recruiting classes were ranked 13th in the SEC every year, which wasn’t cutting it.
If Drinkwitz can at least improve on that lackluster recruiting and reignite the Tigers’ stagnant offense, he’ll validate Sterk’s decision to hire him and become a very popular man in Columbia.