Eli Drinkwitz’s ballclub wrapped up spring practice on Saturday, March 18th, but Missouri’s head football coach was left searching for a new offensive line coach after the surprising departure of Marcus Johnson to Purdue. Word began to leak on Monday night, March 27th, that the Tigers had filled the position with veteran Brandon Jones, and the school made that official on Wednesday. Contract details have yet to be announced.
Welcome to The Zou Coach Jones! #MIZ pic.twitter.com/wxbKhjMIzM— Mizzou Football (@MizzouFootball) April 5, 2023
Jones arrives in Columbia after four years in Houston with Dana Holgorsen’s Cougars, a stint that ended this January when he was not retained. His resume is a veritable who’s who of the Mike Leach tree: four years at Houston with Holgorsen, two years at Texas Tech with Kliff Kingsbury, four years at ECU with Ruffin McNeil, two years at Cal with Sonny Dykes, and of course, starting his coaching career in Lubbock as an assistant for the man himself in 2007.
Jones has served on excellent staffs. Both Cal and ECU had strong offenses during the Dykes and McNeil eras respectively, and his work in Lubbock produced some excellent offenses. In Houston, his young charges had six all-conference seasons in his four years, as well as a pair of NFL players; he also coached three future pros in two seasons at Texas Tech. Last season, Houston ranked second in the country in PFF’s pass block grading metric, and 39th in run blocking. (Missouri was 74th and 84th, respectively).
It’s unclear why his successful tenure ended in Houston despite the on-field success. One theory is the program needed a fall guy, like a slumping MLB team firing the hitting coach during the dog days of summer. Houston’s 8-5 record in 2022 was a disappointment after 2021’s 12 win effort, and the program needed to show a commitment to growth entering the Big 12. Their defense – specifically the secondary – collapsed in 2022, but coordinator Doug Belk is a rising star with an excellent track record, and retaining him is the right move. The passing game thrived with QB Clayton Tune and WR Tank Dell, and so perhaps the offensive line coach & run game coordinator had his number called as the scapegoat simply as a process of elimination. (Of note: Houston’s 2022 OC Shannon Dawson took the same job with the Miami Hurricanes, and Holgorsen has so far opted not to fill that chair.)
A more popular theory is that Jones was canned for a lack of recruiting success. On the “Locked on Coogs” podcast episode about Jones’s firing, host Parker Ainsworth spoke highly of Jones’ coaching acumen and results. But then he went on to detail Jones’ misses in acquiring high school talent in his tenure, noting, “his eye for talent is the only thing that is a hole on his resume. He’s turned offensive lineman into great offensive lineman, but he hasn’t brought them to campus in quite the same way.” With the Houston program needing to tap greater talent as they step into the Power Five, this could be the key motivating factor in building their staff.
Should that be a concern for Missouri? Unlike Holgorsen, Drinkwitz is not at a program-defining crossroads regarding player acquisition; in fact, high school recruiting is arguably as strong as it has ever been in program history. In addition, offensive line coach is not necessarily a job for ace recruiters. While you want strong contributions from your whole staff, the position is so technical that it’s one where great coaching is traditionally prioritized over talent acquisition. It seems like Missouri has certainly checked that box with Jones.
So what else can Missouri look forward to with Jones? Excellent pass protection seems to be his calling card, and that will be a welcome addition in a league like the SEC, which is stocked full of future pros on opposing defenses.
Another benefit is that Jones will bring new concepts into the offensive room from a respected, veteran voice. We saw the Boise offense fail in the SEC, both Drinkwitz’s version and Bryan Harsin’s outfit at Auburn. With new coordinator Kirby Moore and Jones, Drinkwitz has gone outside of his Boise rolodex when adding coaches to his staff.
Lastly, Houston’s excellent left guard Cam’Ron Johnson is in the transfer portal and would make a great addition to the team. Johnson started all 13 games for the Coogs last season as a sophomore, and allowed only one quarterback pressure while earning All-AAC honors. While Jones might not be the best high school recruiter, Missouri fans can hope he’s good enough to land his own proteges.
Overall, despite the surprising departure of Marcus Johnson, Missouri seems to have fared well at the position. Jones’ lackluster recruiting can be managed by a staff that already excels in that area, and his proven chops at developing all-league offensive linemen will be a welcome addition to the program.