Isaiah Thomas once told Bill Simmons that the secret about basketball is that it’s not about basketball. The main point of his theory is that basketball is about more than what’s actually taking place in that moment. It extends to relationships and psychology. Being a great point guard is as much about personal interactions as it is about on-court abilities.
Much of the same is true about college coaching.
The secret about being a college football coach is that it’s about much more than the coaching of players. Eli Drinkwitz seems to understand that part of the job more than most.
Drinkwitz sat down with David Ubben of The Athletic recently to discuss Missouri’s recent upward trend in the recruiting rankings. He wasn’t shy about how or why this has happened, and also wasn’t shy in suggesting his staff is still striving for more.
It was the way he went about saying those things which caught my eye.
“To me, Missouri is one of the last frontiers where you have the opportunity to do something that’s never been done here before,” Drinkwitz told Ubben. “Whether it’s winning the SEC or going to the Playoff or winning an individual award or being the No. 1 overall draft pick. Those things haven’t been accomplished here. There’s a lot of places you can go do that and be the next. Or you can come here and be the first.”
That’s one hell of a sell. If I had to guess, that was a large portion of the recruiting pitch for Luther Burden. But getting Burden isn’t enough for Drinkwitz. His relentless nature on the recruiting trail is what allows him to reach recruiting heights previously unmatched at Missouri.
New Missouri defensive coordinator Blake Baker has been on staffs at Texas (Mack Brown), Arkansas State (Bryan Harsin), Louisiana Tech (Skip Holtz), Miami (Manny Diaz) and LSU (Ed Orgeron). He’s seen how high-level recruiters go about their business. His breakdown of Drinkwitz’s tactics shouldn’t go unnoticed.
“He works at it,” Baker told Ubben. “Not every head coach does. And that’s been the biggest thing. It’s constantly on everyone’s mind, and he’s pushing coaches, challenging coaches. I’ve been on staffs where it goes to the wayside, comes back, and then it goes. But since I’ve been here, it’s constant, constant, constant. He’ll pull out the board and ask, ‘Where are we with that kid? This kid?’ And we’ll talk about the same kid three times in a week.”
Missouri’s recruiting has gone into a bit of a lull. The Tigers have just two commitments in the 2023 class, the most recent of which committed in mid-December. At this point last year, Missouri had six commitments. The year prior it was four. There might be some who see this and get anxious. Don’t. This is a reversion back to what the recruiting cycle used to be.
Missouri had one commitment at this point in the 2018 and 2019 classes, respectively. It had two commitments at this point in 2017. None in 2016. Two in 2015.
Only 20 of Rivals’ top 100 prospects are currently committed.
You get the point. This is a different cycle than what we saw the last few years. COVID changed recruiting in a significant way— not just with virtual visits, but also with timelines for the recruits. Kids wanted to make sure they had a spot early in the process, and more of them stuck with their commitments than many (including myself) expected.
This recruiting cycle should more closely resemble a typical year.
When things pick up - and they will - Missouri is in good position to have yet another big year. Drinkwitz has placed a heavy emphasis on recruiting within the state of Missouri, and Rivals currently has 10 in-state players ranked as “blue chip” recruits. There are others, such as Jeremiyah Love, who aren’t technically rated as a 4 or 5-star recruit, but you wouldn’t know that by their offer lists. Love boasts offers from the likes of Alabama, LSU, Michigan, Notre Dame and USC. Rivals rates him as the 15th best player in the state.
The secret about coaching college football is that it’s not really about the football. It’s about selling the football. Very few are better at that than Drinkwitz. Eventually that will also have to lead to on-field results. For now, though, recruiting is about to take center stage once again. Get ready, because it’s going to be a fun ride.