Coaching searches are a lot like house hunting.
When you’re looking for a house, you have to make some difficult decisions. Is it more important to have the third bedroom, or the second bathroom? Is it a deal-breaker if the basement isn’t finished? And how many parts of town are you really willing to live in?
Coaching searches are similar. What’s really important to you? At the end of the day, what can you not live without?
It became clear very early in the process Mizzou had a couple litmus tests for its next head coach. First and foremost, he must have a background on the offensive side of the ball. Second, he must have college football head coaching experience.
There were a number of different avenues they could explore from there. But those were pretty clearly the two requirements Jim Sterk applied to his search.
Through those filters, he appears to have found the man for the job. That man is 36-year old Eli Drinkwitz.
If you don’t know much about Drinkwitz, I don’t blame you. He’s not exactly a household name. He was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time when he got his start as an assistant on Gus Malzahn’s staff at Springdale High School. He followed Malzahn to Auburn in 2009, then followed Malzahn to Arkansas State in 2012.
When Malzahn left Arkansas State to become the head coach at Auburn, Drinkwitz stuck around until he was eventually named offensive coordinator under Bryan Harsin. He held the OC title at ASU for just one season before he followed Harsin to Boise State where he was once again eventually named OC for the Broncos.
Drinkwitz really made his name when he went out on his own as the offensive coordinator for NC State. He spent three seasons with the Wolfpack before he was named the head coach at Appalachian State prior to this season.
A background on the offensive side of the football. Head coaching experience.
But there seems to be more to Drinkwitz than just a good offensive mind who happened to be at the right place at the right time.
He really seems to be a heck of a football coach.
Arkansas State led the Sun Belt in rushing in his lone season as the OC. In his only season as the OC at Boise State, the Broncos led the conference in scoring and passing with a freshman QB in Brett Rypien.
In an interesting turn of events, Rypien’s backup QB at the time was sophomore Ryan Finley. Finley decided to transfer in order to join Drinkwitz at NC State where the two of them improved the Wolfpack from eighth to fourth to first in the ACC in passing. That coincided, of course, with a dramatic improvement in scoring offenses, jumping from 27 to 32 to 34 points per game in Drinkwitz’s three seasons in Raleigh.
In his only season at Appalachian State, Drinkwitz once again led the highest scoring offense in the Sun Belt.
Oh, and did I mention that he continued calling plays last season (successfully) as a first-time head coach? Go ahead and check that box, too.
That’s not to suggest there aren’t concerns.
Just as there are if you buy a house, there are questions as to whether or not you’re making the right decision. Are you really going to need that third bedroom? Should we have made the finished basement more of a priority?
The concern with Drinkwitz is pretty obvious: He’s only been a head coach for one season. He took over a well-oiled machine at Appalachian State. How much of Drinkwitz’s success this season was him, and how much of it was the fact that he inherited a phenomenal situation?
Is Drinkwitz a really good offensive coordinator who got the right job at the right time and then played the game of politics well? Or is Drinkwitz a legitimate coaching star on the rise who could help Missouri get back toward the top of the SEC East?
The answers to those questions will ultimately be what determine his success at Mizzou.
There are reasons to be optimistic. Sure, he inherited a fantastic program. But he also took it to new heights. His win at North Carolina was App State’s first win over a power five program since 2007. Then he did it again with a huge win at South Carolina.
Jim Sterk isn’t going to be able to check every box on his list. Given the initial set of names we heard, one could assume Sterk would have preferred to hire an established head coach, someone who has built a program. Drinkwitz hasn’t done that. Not yet, anyway.
That’s going to be the task at Missouri. It’s not going to be easy. It very well may fail. But that’s how coaching searches work. If you’re not willing to take the risk, you’re very unlikely to get the reward.
Mizzou took a risk. Now it hopes for the reward.