2019 was supposed to be the year for Mizzou football. We’ve talked about that ad nauseam. And those expectations were ultimately what got Barry Odom fired.
Those same expectations won’t be there for 2020. Nor should they, frankly. But don’t tell that to Eli Drinkwitz. He’s not about to downplay what this team can accomplish next season.
“I’m not going to sit here and throw out some wild expectations,” Drinkwitz said on 590 The Fan in St. Louis. “But I’ll tell you this, one of the reasons I felt strongly to keep Coach (Ryan) Walters is because I wanted to build upon the performances we’ve had in the past. And defensively, Coach Walters has done an outstanding job the last few years. And I think keeping him allows us to be at our full potential faster than had I started over. We’re not trying to tear this thing to the bottom. We’re trying to enhance and make it better than we’ve ever been before. And that started by, ‘let’s keep building on our defensive schemes.’ We’re going to compete. Immediately. That’s the plan.“
That doesn’t sound like a coach who is ready to take a step back. Actions speak louder than words, and on this particular piece of Drinkwitz’s plan, his actions seem to back up what he’s saying publicly.
Most coaches in Drinkwitz’s situation blow up the existing coaching staff in order to bring in their own assistants. Not Drinkwitz. Not yet, anyway.
It was announced earlier this week that Ryan Walters will be sticking around as the Tigers’ defensive coordinator. Say what you will about the 2019 Mizzou football team, the defense was solid. A lot of that is the players, sure. A lot of it was Barry Odom. But some of that credit deserves to go to the rest of the defensive staff for developing the players and implementing the gameplan. Walters is a key cog among those assistants. But he wasn’t alone.
Mizzou had four defensive assistant coaches last year: Ryan Walters, Brick Haley, Vernon Hargreaves and David Gibbs. Three of the four have been announced as returning members of the staff for 2020, with the lone outlier being Hargreaves.
That’s more than a bit surprising to me. And it speaks to what Drinkwitz wants to accomplish in his first season at Mizzou. There will undoubtedly be turnover on the defensive staff as time goes on. But Drinkwitz isn’t keeping three of Odom’s assistants for no reason. He’s doing so because he want to keep continuity on the side of the ball that’s not broken while believing he has the ability to fix the side of the ball that collapsed down the stretch.
There are a million decisions that coaches in Drinkwitz’s decision make in their first year on the job. Very few of those decisions are as important as who they hire as the coordinator on the side of the ball they don’t have an expertise in.
I don’t know if he’ll be proven correctly on that or not. But it’s certainly an interesting strategy. Sterk put his trust in Drinkwitz. Drinkwitz is doing the same with Odom’s former assistants.
“Across the country, people know about (Drinkwitz),” Sterk said on 610 Sports Radio in Kansas City. “They think he’s a really bright mind. He could be one of those that really rises up, and makes me look smart for hiring him.“