November 30th, 2019.
We sat with our coffee (at least I did) on a Saturday morning following Missouri’s less than exciting win in the Shelter Insurance sponsored Battle Line rivalry game against Arkansas, and pondered Barry Odom’s future at Mizzou. I guessed wrong. I thought Odom’s recent contract renewal, coupled with the buyout and NCAA sanctions would be enough to give Odom enough time to run it back.
I guessed wrong.
Before the coffee was finished, Odom was fired. And what ensued was... haphazard. I won’t revisit the process (other than to link to it), but the results landed Appalachian State head coach Eli Drinkwitz. Drinkwitz was a knockout in his lone season in Boone, North Carolina going 13-1 (even if that last win doesn’t entirely count for him). But the reality of the hire was the lack of head coaching experience. So there were obvious concerns, even if we were all still mostly excited by Drinkwitz’s energy and potential.
Anytime you hire a new head coach there’s a risk, and Drinkwitz seems to scream high-risk/high-reward. The lack of head coaching experience might make you recoil, but you listen to him speak and his enthusiasm is palpable. Then, to make sure we’re all on his side in this thing, “Drink” has hit nearly every note in his opening song. He’s recruited as well as anyone has at Missouri, and then following the George Floyd protests he’s empowered his players to have a voice. Some head coaches stumbled, but Drink handled a delicate situation with grace.
But the biggest questions remain
This season isn’t going to be like any other before it. We’re likely to see cancellations and postponements due to the virus, and Missouri is already down (at least) 12 players for the game against Alabama this Saturday. In fact, Brandon Kiley has already implored fans not to judge Drinkwitz on his performance this season.
But with the recruiting momentum, Drinkwitz can’t afford a mulligan season no matter the circumstances. Missouri doesn’t need to win eight of the 10 games, but they need to perform and be competitive, especially against the tougher teams on the slate.
Four of the first five games are against teams currently ranked in the top 15 (though the top 25 doesn’t include B1G and Pac12 teams just yet), and six of the 10 games are against ranked teams at this point. And with Drinkwitz trying to rebuild a questionable offense and some real questions on the offensive line, and with the traditionally staunch defenses of the SEC awaiting them, it’s possible this is a tough season.
But hope remains, mainly because of a really good recruiting class that Drink has built for the 2021 class. There’s enough to build upon, and if Mizzou can hit again in 2022 with guys like Luther Burden, Tyson Ford, Isaac Thompson, Toriano Pride, Max Whisner, and more in a really deep class for in-state recruiting, you have to believe in the direction of the program.
But without a good run of recruiting classes you’re asking even more from Drinkwitz and his coaching staff to build guys up. The way Missouri has done so in the past, for the most part.
So what does that mean? Where are we?
I tend to agree with BK; you won’t be able to tell much from the results on the field this season. There’s simply too many variables that could skew the results good or bad. For me, the bigger key is going to see how Drink and his staff put together the rest of the 2021 recruiting class, and what sort of impact they have on the 2022 class. If he’s able to have the same kind of results next season, or improve upon them, I think you can say the Drinkwitz era is going to work out.
Either way, Jim Sterk has a lot riding on this hire. He’s had a relatively rocky tenure at Missouri and been in the news for a lot of reasons you don't really want to be in for. But he’s now got his hires at both of Mizzou’s main revenue sports. And as much as the jury is out on Cuonzo Martin’s tenure still, we’re all waiting to see if Drink is the real deal or not. But I think we’ll know a lot more in the next 9 months than we do after the first 9.