‘Culture’ within a football program is a funny thing. It’s intangible. It’s hard to define. But, as the saying goes, you know a good football culture it when you see it.
Matt Campbell appears to have built quite the culture at Iowa State. Once upon a time, Gary Pinkel built a strong family atmosphere at Missouri. Nick Saban has constructed a winning culture at Alabama.
Culture is bigger than one player or coach. It permeates throughout the building and becomes what the team is all about.
But it all starts with the man in charge.
I don’t know what the culture was like at Missouri under Barry Odom. It seems pretty clear the players liked him. I firmly believe he was a good defensive coach. I think he might go on to be a successful head coach elsewhere. But he just wasn’t the right man at the right time for this job. And that’s okay!
Watch: #Mizzou safety Martez Manuel (@martezmanuel13) says he has a lot of respect for Barry Odom, and he's looking forward to the opportunity to go against him on Saturday.— Andrew Kauffman (@AndrewABC17) December 2, 2020
"I feel like that's the best way to show Coach Odom how much I respect him is to play hard." pic.twitter.com/x3ZcsRQuND
Eli Drinkwitz appears to be the exact right coach at the exact right time for Missouri.
The 2020 season is already a success. Vegas set the win total for the Tigers at 2.5. They’ve already gone over that mark. Missouri had a massive victory over LSU. Drinkwitz ended the drought against Kentucky. The Tigers took care of business in a swing game against South Carolina. And they just made Vanderbilt look like an FCS opponent.
We can stop the count. The 2020 season is a success. Now it’s about more than about just 2020 for Drink.
He’s starting to build that culture I referenced. National media is taking notice. Opposing coaches are reportedly talking about how Missouri is a pain in the ass to play because they’re such a fundamentally sound football team.
Eli Drinkwitz is trying to establish a new tradition at #Mizzou & #RivsAndBK are loving it.— 101 ESPN St. Louis (@101espn) December 3, 2020
PODCAST: https://t.co/qQ7K7rZ1CY pic.twitter.com/GhiIhKNiW2
That’s the culture on the field. It’s what Drinkwitz is doing off the field that I find particularly interesting.
If you follow Missouri’s coaches on social media, you’ve probably seen a photo of one of them posing on the quad after a win in front of a lit Jesse Hall dome.
Just stopped by to see the new tradition after a Mizzou win and look who was there. @CoachDrinkwitz #lightthedome pic.twitter.com/h7Q1EiZ1QP— Chad Bass (@cbassmizzou) October 11, 2020
I didn’t make much of it the first couple times I saw it. It’s a pretty innocent concept. And then I saw Drinkwitz talk about it earlier this week in his press conference, and it completely changed my thoughts on the matter.
Watch: #Mizzou football coach Eli Drinkwitz says it's important to create traditions within the program - like lighting the dome of Jesse Hall after every win. Drink has big plans for post pandemic celebrations.— Andrew Kauffman (@AndrewABC17) December 1, 2020
"I'd stay away from Harpo's, but I heard that's a happening spot." pic.twitter.com/2whhaKHZH1
This isn’t just an ordinary photo op. It very well could be the next step in building Drink’s culture at Missouri. This is about inclusion, and community. It’s hard to envision that in the middle of a pandemic. But close your eyes for a moment & imagine this hypothetical scenario.
Imagine - Missouri is midway through the 2022 season. The Tigers are 5-0 & they’re at home to play a top-10 ranked Florida squad. It’s the SEC game of the week on CBS. Missouri wins the game on a walk-off field goal. The celebration begins and people flow out of the stadium toward the quad to see the ‘lighting ceremony’ in which Drinkwitz “lights the dome.” The Tigers faithful continue celebrating the huge win on the quad before they start flowing into downtown.
That’s how you build a program. Drinkwitz knows this. He’s a natural salesman. Fans will eat that stuff up. I would imagine that’s the type of moment that’s pretty darn easy to sell to recruits, too.
Drinkwitz has already coached a successful 2020 season. It could become even more impressive if the Tigers are able to win in their head-to-head matchup against Odom on Saturday. But Drinkwitz’s success at Missouri is about more than just the on-field product. He’s coming up with ideas to make fans feel like they’re part of the program. We don’t see the results of those plans yet because, well, the pandemic. But you can see the foundation being laid.
You know it when you see a winning culture within a football program. We’ll see where this goes, but it certainly feels to me like we’re witnessing the early stages of Drinkwitz building something that could be special at Missouri.