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How Eliah Drinkwitz compares to coaches of Mizzou past

Through 25 games as Mizzou’s head coach, Drinkwitz holds a 12-13 record, but a look at history suggests he’s in familiar company.

Syndication: Columbia Daily Tribune Madeline Carter/Tribune / USA TODAY NETWORK

After yet another (nearly) 30-point blowout loss, the fourth in just three years, scores of Missouri Tiger fans were brought back to reality. The program seemed to have established a growing sense of optimism after Drinkwitz brought in Mizzou’s top recruiting class in program history and reshaped their defense with the hiring of Blake Baker at defensive coordinator. But that hope died down considerably after the blowout to Kansas State.

At the center of the loss stood Eliah Drinkwitz, the coach tasked with rejuvenating a Mizzou program searching for its first bowl victory since 2014. The Tigers’ third-year head coach took responsibility for the defeat in his postgame press conference, but the fact remains— he holds a sub-.500 record in his tenure as Mizzou’s head coach — and this has brought his future into the spotlight.

For Tiger fans, this feels like an old tale. Mizzou’s continued attempts to reach the horizon as a Top-25 program (at minimum) have fallen flat once again. The glorious 2013 and 2014 seasons under Gary Pinkel remain a distant memory as today’s teams showcase, at best, mediocrity.

Of these lopsided defeats (UGA 2x, Tennessee, K-State), the Kansas State one in particular has created a resounding call to reconsider Drinkwitz’s future and potential as a head coach in the SEC. These statements have been met with a mixture of support and backlash (as evidenced by the exchange below), but the feeling of disappointment reigns on both sides.

Former Mizzou Football player Lucas Vincent shares his thoughts about Drinkwitz’s status as head coach in response to a Rock M Facebook post

On one hand, Mizzou fans desire a winning culture with a possibility of jockeying for another SEC title at the end of the season. The counterargument, however, is that it takes time to build a program, especially one with a roster that had featured diminishing returns when Drinkwitz took over.

Needless to say, amidst a time of uncertainty and doubt, Mizzou finds itself historically in a similar spot.

Since the 1971 season, the Tigers have cycled through eight different head coaches with varied levels of success. A common theme has emerged from nearly every coach— a sub-.500 record through their first 25 games.

The Last 50 Years of Mizzou FB Head Coaches

Mizzou Coach Year Record in First 25 Games Record After Best Conf. Finish
Mizzou Coach Year Record in First 25 Games Record After Best Conf. Finish
Al Onofrio 1971-77 9-16 29-25 T-2nd
Warren Powers 1978-1984 16-9 30-24-3 T-2nd
Woody Widenhofer 1985-88 6-19 6-12-1 5th
Bob Stull 1989-1993 7-17-1 8-21-1 T-6th
Larry Smith 1994-2000 6-18-1 27-28 T-2nd
Gary Pinkel 2001-2015 11-14 107-59 1st
Barry Odom 2016-2019 11-14 14-11 3rd
Eliah Drinkwitz 2020-Current 12-13 ? T-3rd
Brandon Haynes

Only one of Mizzou’s eight head coaches in the past 51 years has begun their tenure with a winning record, including 2022 College Hall of Fame selection Gary Pinkel. In fact, the Tigers’ most decorated coach had only one winning season in his first four years with the program, a common theme throughout the list.

The outlier, Warren Powers, inherited a majority of his roster from a 4-7 Missouri team that lost five of its games by single digits in the 1977 season. Utilizing the success he had in one year leading Washington State, Powers led the Tigers to upset victories over No. 5 Notre Dame and No. 2 Nebraska in his inaugural season.

Despite earning the second most victories on this list, Powers watched his teams sink back toward mediocrity in his final years as head coach. That coaching change surprisingly led to a streak of no Mizzou head coaching earning a .500 or better record in their debut season... until Eli Drinkwitz in 2020.

While I am not saying that Drinkwitz will match the success of Pinkel, Powers or fellow Mizzou legends Don Faurot and Dan Devine, the success each has had in their first 25 games has no correlation to what will come. Of the eight coaches mentioned above, almost every single one either improved upon their original record or posted a winning record in the rest of their tenure.

However, when looking closer at Drinkwitz’s record in particular, his victories illustrate a lack of quality wins against a higher tier of competition and mostly include opponents who finished with the same record as Mizzou or worse: Vanderbilt (2x), Kentucky, South Carolina (2x), Arkansas, Florida, Central Michigan, SEMO, North Texas, Louisiana Tech and LSU.

Those kinds of results are what led to the firing of Odom, who did improve upon his first 25 games, but failed to move Mizzou up the SEC totem pole. We’re beginning to see the same from Drinkwitz, as Nate Edwards noted in his “Beyond the Box Score” earlier this week:

And now our dear friend Eli is 2-8 in true road games, 1-12 when his team is losing at halftime, (most likely) 1-8 against teams that finish the year ranked and (most likely) 2-10 against teams that finish the year with a winning record.

When hearing those statistics, it’s of little surprise to hear rumblings of some individuals in the fanbase desiring a new coach in Columbia. I do not believe they’ll reach that point this year, but if Drinkwitz holds the same timeline as Odom, he is about to embark on the second half of his tenure.

As we’ve taken a look back at a little of the history surrounding Mizzou’s head coaches, it’s important to note how this is the point in time where each of their legacies began to take shape. For some, the result led to a plethora of success, while others ended their Missouri coaching careers in no better place than they had inherited it.

Drinkwitz, who has started his Mizzou coaching career better than most, will have the opportunity to dictate his future with the help of his recruiting classes, who have bought into the vision to bring the Tigers back to glory. However, he’s nearing his time to translate the recruiting success into legitimate victories and, if he is unable to, Drinkwitz will be viewed as a candidate to be the next SEC coach on his way out.