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Eli Drinkwitz doesn’t have time to waste

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Coach Drinkwitz will win the press conference on Tuesday morning, as every head coach does. It’s what he does next that’s far more interesting.

Appalachian State v South Carolina Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images

I’m going to do something in the first few sentences of this article which could jeopardize my standing with the bossman, Sam Snelling: I’m going to compare a head coach to Kim Anderson (at least tangentially).

Remember when Kim Anderson was hired as the new basketball coach back in 2014? We knew he was under-qualified even then. We knew the program was in APR trouble. We knew that the next few years were possibly looking quite bleak.

But for just a few hours on the day he was introduced, Kim Anderson made it feel like anything was possible.

Anderson cracked jokes. He cried. He called Missouri his dream job. And maybe you, dear reader, weren’t fooled. You knew it was all smoke and mirrors, a story too good to be true. But for the rest of us with beating hearts, it was hard not to fall under the sway of the lanky Sedalia native.

Of course, less than seven months later the Tigers lost to UMKC on their home court, and the fire began to burn for three straight seasons. Almost nothing went right in those few years under Kim Anderson, and we have done our best to scourge the memories from our collective memory. But hey! At least we had that magical presser!

Even Anderson, a hire that was doomed to fail from the start, “won his press conference,” a term that is thrown around in every head coaching search, including the one we just went through. It makes sense: you obviously don’t want a brand new coach who comes in and immediately botches everything, alienating fans by mistaking your team for your rivals, Bryce Harper style.

But no one has ever truly lost the opening press conference. There are only different degrees of winning in that field, and head coaches across all sports stay undefeated.

All that is to say that when Jim Sterk and the curators introduce Eliah Drinkwitz as Missouri’s 33rd head football coach at 10:45 this morning, the new guy is going to win his press conference. Shocker!

Drinkwitz will say all the right things. He’ll talk about how appealing the job is and what great history and prestige it has. He’ll say something about the talent already on the roster and the promise of playing in the country’s best football conference. We’ll all nod our heads and mutter our approval. Some of us will nitpick on Twitter. Standard stuff.

But when the journos have packed away their cameras, the hands have been shaken and the babies have been kissed — oh, sorry, are we not in Oxford? — it’ll be time for Drinkwitz to go to work. And he has no time to lose.

Early signing day is one week from Thursday, and the Tigers are loosely holding together a decent class, all things considered. After a wave of initial decommitments following Odom’s firing, the 2020 class has held strong for the Tigers. Many have voiced their support for the new coach. Most will be back in town this weekend to meet him.

Where does Drinkwitz go from there, though? It’s the expectation that he maintain some semblance of a recruiting class in 2020, but what about the guys that are still on the fence? Will Drinkwitz try to hit the road in the next week and lure a few more future Tigers into the fold? How do the newly reinforced sanctions play into all this?

And what about the players on the current roster? As I type this, it’s likely Drinkwitz has spoken with or been informally introduced to many of the current Tigers. Some will be able to turn the page from Odom, but some will not. How many talented young men who signed up to play for Odom’s staff will have to be talked out of packing their bags?

And none of that will even be possible without a full staff. Drinkwitz called his own plays at Appalachian State, but that’s a much taller task in the SEC. Who does The Drink recruit to run his vaunted offensive schemes? On the other side of the ball, Missouri is losing a lot of talent, but also returning an All SEC linebacker and a host of talented rotation players who formed one of the SEC’s best units in 2019. Does Drinkwitz look to retain Brick Haley, who seems popular with both players and fans? Does Ted Roof follow him to Columbia, or is there someone else Sterk has talked the new head coach into?

You’ll notice that the above paragraphs contain a lot of questions and no answers. And that’s because we only have this one opportunity to bask in the glow of the new guy. Eliah Drinkwitz will get approximately 30 minutes to soak it all in before the reality of the job hits him. And we all know that this job hits hard. Missouri is in a much better place than it was when Barry Odom took the job, but it’s not as if the Tigers are returning a fully loaded arsenal like Drinkwitz got at App State. In order to achieve the quick(ish) success fans are hoping for, the new guy in town will have some significant work to do.

So make sure you enjoy today’s press conference. It’s going to be charming and optimistic like all pressers are. But as soon as its over, keep your eyes glued to those screens. Because Coach Eli Drinkwitz will be a busy, busy man over the next few days and weeks.