Winning the press conference doesn’t matter.
Sure, it’s nice to have a coach who says zany things or who says all the right things. But eventually football games are going to be played, and suddenly the things that were said in the Stadium Club in mid-December aren’t exactly top of mind.
Keep that in mind when it comes to any grand takeaways from Eli Drinkwitz’s first public comments as Missouri’s head coach. Whether you loved him, hated him or fell somewhere in-between, the ultimate determining factor in how much Mizzou fans like or dislike a coach will simply depend on how often that coach wins in his time at Missouri.
With that disclaimer out of the way, it’s time to get to what I thought were a few very interesting takeaways from Drinkwitz’s opening presser.
It’s fascinating how quickly Drinkwitz got to where he is today
I’ve read this last note in his bio from Mizzou’s official press release at least a half-dozen times: “Drinkwitz, 36, graduated magna cum laude and was the student body president at Arkansas Tech before beginning his coaching career at the prep level in his hometown of Alma, Ark., in 2005.“
Let’s break this down step by step, shall we?
Drinkwitz graduated with a 3.8 or a 3.9 GPA as the student body president at Arkansas Tech. He’s known as a bright offensive mind. But he’s apparently a pretty bright guy all around... And one who people seem to enjoy, given his peers decided to vote him student body president.
He began his coaching career at the prep level in his hometown in 2005. That was less than 15 years ago. He’s now second youngest power five head coach in the country, behind only Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley. Riley was born six months after Drinkwitz.
So we have a young whiz kid who saw his star rise despite no background in actually playing the sport he coaches that I can find.
That doesn’t happen by accident. You don’t get to where Drinkwitz is today by mistake.
This hire may or may not work. But Drinkwitz is in this position for a reason. He doesn’t have family ties that helped him get his first coaching gig. He came up the old-fashioned way. He started out in high school, was lucky enough to join a staff with Gus Malzahn, and took advantage of his opportunity by rising through the ranks under Bryan Harsin and eventually becoming his own man at NC State before running a program for a year at App State.
I don’t have the right adjectives for that kind of progression at hyper-speed for someone with no family or program ties from his playing days at a specific university. But it’s impressive.
And his background leads me to my second takeaway from his presser today...
Drinkwitz seems to be a really charming guy, and he’s very comfortable speaking in front of a crowd
That might seem like a strange takeaway given a football coach’s job is to communicate with his team each and everyday. But you’ve seen college football coaching press conferences. How often did you see a coach behind the mic who genuinely seems comfortable?
It’s pretty rare.
But that’s where Drinkwitz’s background comes in to play. Maybe I’m reaching here, but I would imagine running for student body president in college and his post-grad job as a teacher helped prepare him for these types of public speaking situations.
It probably doesn’t matter in the long-run. But it certainly helps for people with a job like mine. Drinkwitz was legitimately engaging in his press conference today. That’s rare for college football coaches. So I wanted to take a moment to appreciate it.
Drinkwitz has a pretty clear vision for the identity of his team
On his offense: “Our style of play on offense is a pro-tempo style. We’re going to base out of the no-huddle. We’re going to be quarterback driven. We’re going to have a dominant downhill running game, a vertical passing game and we’re going to execute under pressure.“
On what he looks for in a QB: “I look for five characteristics in a quarterback: toughness, preparation, decision-making, accuracy and leadership. Those five requirements don’t fit in a box. Leaders comes in all shapes and sizes, quarterbacks come in all shapes and sizes. But I think all great quarterbacks possess those five things.”
On his defense: “We’re going to be multiple. Like I said, it all starts with stopping the run. You have to make a team play to their deficiencies, not allow them to play to their strengths. So you have to stop the run. And it’s a quarterback driven game. We have to confuse, harass, and hit the quarterback. We are not going to be able to allow him to stay back there. If we can get pressure with four, and accomplish that, great. If not, then we gotta bring more... But the most important thing is tackling and turnovers. We are going to be a team that tackles well and creates turnovers.”
It’s rare that you get anything more than cliches in press conferences, but we actually got something of substance from Drinkwitz when it comes to the style and the brand of football we can expect from his football team at Missouri.
He later went on to say his offense is a blend of Gus Malzahn’s up-tempo style of offense with Bryan Harsin’s pro-style offense that includes multiple pre-snap motions and shifts.
Count. Me. In.
I respect that Drinkwitz has a clear plan and identity for what he wants the team to look like. What I’ll be interested in finding out is how he blends that plan and that identity with the personnel he has at Mizzou. The cupboard isn’t completely barren, but 2020 could very well be a difficult year when it comes to the roster he has to play with.
Can he do all of the things he wants to do with the players he’s handed? We’ll see. But I like that he has what appears to be a clear vision of what it will look like in the abstract.
Drinkwitz plans to serve as the offensive coordinator and play-caller
On the decision to “I will be the offensive coordinator and play-caller. I firmly believe when you take over a program you have to establish the expectation and foundation for what your experiences are. My background as a QB’s coach, developer and as an offensive coordinator is what allowed me the opportunity to be here... Will I call plays forever? I don’t know. But I know I’ll call plays the first day of Spring practice and as long as I need to.“
I have no problem with Drinkwitz calling the plays. In fact, I’m in favor of it. He made his name as a play-caller. A big reason why he was hired for the job is because he’s a bright offensive mind who has fielded quality offenses in the past.
One of Barry Odom’s first mistakes when he took over as head coach was turning the defense over to Demontie Cross. It was never going to work. But Odom wasted a year and a half trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Eventually things came to an impasse and Odom did what should have been done from the very beginning; he regained control of the defense.
There’s no question as to who will be in charge of Mizzou’s offense in 2020. If you don’t like a play-call, you know who to blame. I have no problem with that decision.
I’m more than a little dubious of the decision to also serve as the offensive coordinator in title.
There are three main reasons why coaches decide to jump from their current position to a new position:
1 - A promotion in title
2 - A pay raise
3 - A jump in level of play
More often than not, it’s some combination of the three. But don’t ignore the importance of a promotion in title. A safeties coach being promoted to defensive coordinator is a big deal, even if it’s nothing more than a change in title. The new title makes that coach more attractive to other prospective schools in the future. He suddenly becomes a candidate for other DC jobs elsewhere. That matters.
So when Drinkwitz announced today in his introductory press conference that he would serve as his own offensive coordinator, I scratched my head a bit. Calling plays, sure. But why potentially eliminate certain coaches from your pool of candidates to serve on your staff?
Missouri will reportedly increase its assistant coaches salary pool from where it was under Odom as a sign of commitment to this staff. That’s good... But are you going to pay a QB’s coach who doesn’t serve as the OC or the play-caller $1 million just because you have it? I guess you could. It’s just a surprising decision. It’s something I’m a bit skeptical of, and I’ll be very interested to see how the staff shakes out as a result.