Recruiting at Missouri is hard. It always has been and always will be.
Over the past 10 years, Missouri has only ever breached the top 25 football recruiting classes (according to 247 Sports) twice. Even after all the success of the late 2000’s Gary Pinkel teams, the Tigers couldn’t even crack the Top 20. Not once.
Gary Pinkel never let this sort of thing get him down, instead turning the Missouri recruiting method into somewhat of an art form. The phrase, “diamond in the rough” has been used and abused on the Missouri corners of the internet, but it’s an apt title for how Pinkel went about his business on the trail. Arguably no one was better at finding unwanted talents and turning them into NFL-caliber players.
It was the same strategy that Barry Odom tried to implement at Missouri for four years. It might even be the same one Eli Drinkwitz tries as well — you’ll just have to come back in another year to be sure.
For all the fanfare of Drinkwitz’s first week on the job, this weekend had to be the most exhausting part of the whole affair. He talked to countless high school kids and posed for a lot of pictures. He probably made some of them promises. He might have been bluntly honest with others. Some of those kids probably gave positive responses, but will respond by committing elsewhere on Wednesday. A lot of the efforts Coach Drinkwitz made this weekend may have been a waste of time.
And that’s OK.
When it’s all said and done, Coach Drink wasn’t hired to lock down an airtight 2020 football recruiting class. All he’s expected to do is keep it from falling apart completely. From what we’ve seen of the recruits’ responses, that seems to be what’s happening.
Missouri has suffered a total of five decommitments since Barry Odom’s dismissal. Two (Cooper Davis and Jalen Logan-Redding) have flipped their commitments elsewhere. Two more (Robert Wooten and Jalen St. John) appear destined for other schools. If Twitter smoke means anything, Arkansas — and its brand new defensive coordinator — could be looking to poach some of the Tigers’ recruits. Only Elijah Young, Tennessee’s Mr. Football, seems to be leaning back toward the confines of Faurot Field.
But for every decommit, there’s been at least two of recruits expressing their buy-in to the program moving forward. You don’t have to look much further than our Twitter page to see how much the 2020 class is loving Drink’s energy. And many of the Tigers’ key commits — Jay Maclin, Kevon Billingsley, Brady Cook, JJ Hester — are either completely bought in or, at worst, highly interested in what the new coach is bringing with him.
Still, that doesn’t cushion the blow that’s likely coming on Wednesday. For whatever his faults were as a head coach, Barry Odom was certainly getting Missouri back to its historic recruiting levels — his classes improved (or stayed consistent) every year. After his firing, and the decommitments that followed, Missouri’s class plunged in the rankings. They currently sit at 65th at 247, 60th in Rivals and out of the Top 40 (where they were while Odom was coach) at ESPN. Only 13 players are currently committed to the Tigers. Unless Drinkwitz has some young studs up his sleeve — which we wouldn’t like to discount! — it seems unlikely that number will rise. It might even fall.
But so what? Missouri (and I feel foolish for saying this at the risk of overstating the obvious) has never been dependent on any one recruiting class to make or break their on-field success. Sure, we look back at some classes with a lot of fond memories. But if you’re not recruiting at the elite level of the Alabamas and Ohio States and Clemsons of the world, it’s hard to parse how much of a difference any year can make.
As fellow Rock M dad, Nate Edwards, likes to say, head coaching is about three things: Acquiring Talent, Developing Talent and Deploying Talent. We’ve seen that the first of these steps isn’t any use if you can’t do the second. And we’ve seen that the second can get you a lot farther than you’d have thought on signing day. Eli Drinkwitz seems to have excelled at the third stage (deploying) of the head coaching responsibility triangle — we’ll just have to wait another year to see if he can do the first and maybe two years to see if he’s reliable with the second.
Maybe some of you reading this aren’t as concerned about the 2020 class out of some sort of wizened perspective. To you I say, congratulations and thank you for reading thus far.
For those of you who may be daring to hope, though, that the Drinkwitz magic can soak into this week’s recruiting efforts, be prepared for a tough blow. You’ll be able to take it and so will Eli Drinkwitz’s program. One small recruiting class shouldn’t be enough to dampen the spirit of positivity that has swept over Missouri football in the past week.