Yesterday the Missouri athletic department hosted a Zoom hangout where those covering the Missouri beat had an opportunity to chat with Head Coach Drinkwitz, Tight Ends Coach/Recruiting Coordinator Casey Woods, and senior running back Larry Rountree III. I was lucky enough to attend as the Rock M Nation representative and wanted to share some of the big takeaways:
Who is going to be quarterback?
Answer: Unclear! Drinkwitz admitted the quarterback situation is the biggest question on the team but didn’t have any further insight to provide. Shawn Robinson is the presumptive starter but Drinkwitz and the coaching staff have only had three practices to see what the quarterbacks can do and, as Drink so eloquently put it, “Connor (Bazelak) was not mobile and Brady (Cook) looked like he was starting his senior year of high school.” So...not a whole lot of insight there. Plus, per NCAA rules, the coaching staff is not allowed to personally view — or demand — any activities that the team is doing so they’re relying on the three hours of Zoom meetings per week to figure out how the team is doing. Suffice to say, the quarterback competition will be wide open once practices start August 7th.
On Clothing - or, how to be a head coach and wear clothes you like while not showing your political leanings
Coach Drink said he was honoring the great Andy Reid by donning his finest (Missouri-themed) Hawaiian shirt. Here’s what that looks like:
Given the events of this past week, particularly regarding the photos taken of Dabo Swinney wearing a “football matters” shirt and Mike Gundy’s photo of him wearing an OAN shirt, naturally the question came up of what Coach Drinkwitz thought of it. He was very open in his opinion, first citing that coaches should be able to wear what they want without it being interpreted as a statement, especially when they are giving their free time to fans in order to chat and take a photo. However, he made it clear that he was not defending their actions at all, just pointing out how difficult it can be when you have to think about every single action you take. He also admitted that all coaches should be very aware of their influence and need to not only think about what message their apparel will make but also how their words can be interpreted. He said he and his staff are much more aware of everything they do and how it can be perceived. His last words on this was the advice he gave the team, “Freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom from consequences”.
One of the more interesting things from the recruiting talk was this comment from Drink, “We don’t want to get into (recruiting) battles that we can’t win”. It was in reference to their established footprint of the state of Missouri plus a 450 mile radius that they’ve been hitting in recent weeks. That statement can be interpreted positively and negatively; the negative makes it sound like they’re not going after high-profile blue-chip recruits since all the “old-money” programs will be going after them, too, and have a better shot at landing them. However, we know that’s not true, given the recruiting wins with Ennis Rackestraw, Travion Ford, and Daylan Carnell. So, I interpret his statement positively: no, they’re not going to cast a wide blue-chip net, but if they’ve done the legwork and established a good relationship, then they will believe it’s a battle they can win and will continue to work with the kid to get him on campus. My big takeaway on this statement was just a reaffirmation of his earlier statements this year about getting into Chicago and Colorado, places where the SEC doesn’t recruit as heavily. I wasn’t able to ask him about the inroads they’ve made there, and he also didn’t offer any insight as to how that’s going. I believe it’s safe to assume that those two areas are a work in progress, especially considering that there are currently zero verbal commits from either of those two places.
You Must Be * THIS * Tall to Ride the Ride
Just like in dating, if you’re not six feet tall male you better bring something else to the table. And for the Missouri defensive staff, they’ve been stocking up on defensive backs that exceed six feet tall like it’s toilet paper at the beginning of quarantine.
BK and I have discussed this phenomenon on this week’s podcast (and, like, all the ones before it) because it’s such a noticeable shift in strategy and I wanted to find out more. So, I was finally able to go to the head man himself and ask him directly, “When you are filling out your recruiting boards, are you all only considering defensive backs that are over six feet tall and what is the schematic advantage of deploying that size of player in the defensive secondary?”
To no one’s surprise, Drink skipped over the recruiting portion (I don’t blame him), but as for the second portion he said that burst speed and closing speed will always be important, especially for cornerbacks. But a taller player works a lot better for the types of receivers that are getting deployed and the route concepts of a modern passing game. He said that not only can a taller corner defend the jump balls and back shoulder fades better, but the taller guys also have longer arms and have an easier time swatting away passes or sealing off a passing window since their range means a quicker and easier movement to knock away a pass that they aren’t in perfect position to defend. I wanted to follow up with, “Would you recruit a 5’10” guy with a 6’2” arm span?”, but that would have to wait for another day. Regardless, there’s the strategy! Rejoice!
Meet your new favorite coach: Casey Woods
Before Drink left the call he mentioned that Casey Woods and his wife, Lauren, were the unofficial “social chairs” of the Missouri football coaching staff, consistently working to find things for the coaches, wives, and kids to do as a group and keeping everyone engaged. That has nothing to do with the team or strategy, but I love these little nuggets and wanted to share.
Coach Woods was a great interview. I think he was taking the Zoom call from the back of an Uber, but regardless, he was incredibly loquacious and eager to share.
If you remember back to my new coaching staff previews, Woods was the recruiting coordinator at UAB when the team was killed and then brought back to life a few years later. I asked him if any of the lessons he learned while trying to build that team from scratch were applicable to his recruiting during the pandemic. He said that a lot of what he did with the Blazers translates to now since it’s essentially the selling of a product that’s not tangible. He shared the story of his pitches at UAB: at the time, UAB had terrible athletic facilities and a decrepit stadium, but had awesome dining halls, dorms, and campus....so that’s what they pitched. Can you believe that? In the modern football era he was able to get kids to commit because of nice dorms!
As far as Mizzou goes, he said that Missouri is a clear step up from UAB and they have tremendous facilities and a student and fan base that’s hungry for more. He views Mizzou as a team that’s nowhere near its potential and that’s part of the vision that they have been pitching to future recruits.
Lastly, he is aware that the sports are moving at a ludicrous pace as far as number of commitments year to date and understands that most people believe a massive “decommit season” can happen once kids get on campus and staff get to see them in person for the first time in six months. But he mentioned that most kids are way better educated about the program and campus now than even last year’s class because coaches and the players aren’t worried about practices or hitting the road for visits. It’s all one-on-one conversations where the kid can find out anything they want.
Coach Woods closed with a story about how he was trying to visit Daniel Parker Jr. in the hospital during a January blizzard, had his car hit by a jack-knifed 18-wheeler, offered $100 to anyone at the closest gas station to drive him the 10 miles to Oak Grove, and then gave the kid who took him there gas money and a “case of water”. I have a feeling that Woods might be an incredibly entertaining interview every time he gets the chance.
Larry Rountree III - excellent parent in training
It was great to hear a voice from the team, and thankfully Larry Rountree was able to give us some insight into how he and the team is doing.
Larry stayed on campus during all of this and admitted this was easily the weirdest summer he’s ever had. He’s taking two summer courses and is on pace to graduate, which is great to hear! But he said usually his days are packed with activities and school work that he has to do, and most guys just stay in the athletics building. But now, thanks to covid and social distancing, his day is, “Wake up, go and work out, go home, go back for more conditioning, go home” and he has way more free time thanks to fewer things that they can do. He said it feels like a high school football schedule rather than college.
As a senior leader, he has been active in communicating with the younger guys on the team. He said many of the older guys have talked to their position groups and encouraged them to make smart choices and wear masks. But, as he so eloquently put it, “Man, you can tell these kids to not do something but, you know, you can’t really make them do that, right?”.
Yes, Larry, all parents are violently nodding their heads right now.
He pointed out that the Houston Cougars football team had six positives tests and now have shut everything down for a few weeks. Rountree and other leaders’ messaging has consistently been, “Don’t be like them and set us back. Be smart or else we fall behind.” You can’t control everyone but it’s good to hear that the messaging is consistent from both the coaching staff and players.
That was it for this week! There should be more of these in the near future and I (or whomever is free) will relay what is said as it’s completed!