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Jim Sterk’s gamble on Drinkwitz is one which could pay off in a big way

Jim Sterk has found his guy, and now it’s time to trust his instincts on Missouri’s new head coach

NCAA Football: Appalachian State at North Carolina James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

During this coaching search, Athletic Director Jim Sterk wasn’t exactly a popular guy among the Missouri fan base. The basketball coach he hired suffered one of the worst losses in program history to Charleston Southern in year three. The football coaching names he reportedly came up with to hire were Blake Anderson, Jeff Monken, and Skip Holtz. Fans (and the Board of Curators), weren’t pleased. At the time it was hard to blame them.

And then perhaps, in a turning of the tides, on Saturday Cuonzo Martin’s team got a much-needed road win at Temple. Then, the next day, news the Missouri football team had found its new head coach came out— and one that seems to have pleased most of the fan base. What a weekend, huh?

The coaching search has come to an end, Jim Sterk has found his guy, and the Eli Drinkwitz era has officially started at Missouri.

Sterk seems to be taking a gamble here. That gamble isn’t a bad thing considering the program’s place in the SEC pecking order. Drinkwitz isn’t considered the home run hire outside of the immediate fan base (and well... there are will always be those type of fans that respond with, “Who?” when the hire was announced).

While this hire certainly has some potential and there are a lot of reasons to be excited, there are also going to be a lot of questions surrounding this decision.

Drinkwitz was hired for his offensive resume moreso than his one year of head coaching experience. He’s worked under Gene Chizik, Gus Malzahn, and Bryan Harsin. The programs he has coached in are 8-0 in bowl games, and include a National Championship at Auburn. Every season he spent as an offensive coordinator at N.C. State, the numbers improved, and maybe more importantly, the numbers noticeably dropped off when he left.

Sterk wanted the offensive background and he got it. Drinkwitz is confident enough in being his own offensive coordinator to call plays, all while running a program in the biggest conference in college football. And he’s only 36 years old. Next season at kickoff, he’ll become the second-youngest Power Five head coach behind Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley.

And by the sounds of it, he has the chance to become the next Lincoln Riley.

He only has one year of head coaching experience!

Of course, but Drinkwitz just led Appalachian State to a 12-1 record, a No. 20 ranking in the College Football Playoff, and a Sun Belt Championship. Not a lot of head coaches can have that type of success in their first year, especially when running a group of five program.

The program he took over was already one rolling!

That is very true, but Drinkwitz helped it become more successful, because Appalachian State just had the most wins in program history this season. So yes, he took over a program in a good place, but he was still able to elevate it.

Running over teams in the Sun Belt isn’t like the SEC!

True, but Drinkwitz is also 2-0 against Power Five teams — both coming on the road against North Carolina and South Carolina. The win over UNC was the Mountaineers’ first win over a Power Conference team since their historic 2007 upset over Michigan.

It is worth mentioning that this is the second year in a row an Appalachian State coach has landed a Power Five job? All Scott Satterfield did was take a 2-10 Louisville team to 7-5 and win ACC Coach of the Year. So maybe App State is the new ‘It’ program for hiring successful power conference coaches? Who knows.

There are a lot of unknowns with Eli Drinkwitz, but maybe he is “the next big thing” in coaching. And Jim Sterk must see that in him.

“It’s a competitive market out there, but we got our guy,” Sterk said in Tuesday’s press conference. They had better hope to have found the right one, because this is Sterk’s most important hire as Missouri’s Athletic Director— and he will be under pressure if this doesn’t work out like everybody wants it to.