Remember when quarterback ‘competitions’ weren’t a thing at Mizzou? I miss those days. The line of succession was clear with Gary Pinkel roaming the sidelines as the Tigers’ head coach. First it was Brad Smith, then Chase Daniel, then Blaine Gabbert, then James Franklin, then Maty Mauk, and finally it was Drew Lock.
That’s a 15-year stretch without having to wonder who the next starting quarterback would be. It was a good life as a fan.
It’s a life a lot of fans miss.
That succession plan was thrown into flux after Lock left for the NFL. That shouldn’t have been the case, of course. It wasn’t as if Lock leaving was a surprise; he had played four seasons at Mizzou and flirted with the possibility of bolting for the NFL after his junior year.
Crisis was averted. Kelly Bryant committed to Mizzou as a grad transfer. But that was only for a year, and it didn’t go according to plan. Odom was fired, Drink was hired, and a competition at the position became the new norm.
First it was Connor Bazelak and Shawn Robinson battling for the starting job in 2020. Bazelak held onto the job in 2021... And things went poorly.
Cook won the job over Tyler Macon in 2022 and it went... fine?
The reality is this: The Tigers haven’t had a multi-year plan at the most important position in team sports since the day Drew Lock left for the NFL.
That was supposed to be changing under Drinkwitz. Drink landed a commitment from 4-star quarterback in 2021 (Macon), 2022 (Sam Horn) and 2023 (Gabarri Johnson). The Tigers also added Jake Garcia, a former 4-star quarterback, via the transfer portal this past offseason.
Surely one of those players would be the Tigers’ long-term answer at the position.
A little update on #Mizzou QB competition. Eli Drinkwitz categorizes it as Brady Cook and challengers more than wide open competition. Could change, of course. Cook is full go after shoulder surgery.— Ben Frederickson (@Ben_Fred) April 25, 2023
OH COME ON. We’re doing this AGAIN?
Disclaimer — I’ve been higher on Brady Cook than most Mizzou fans. I’ve written about how he was unfairly criticized for his mostly average performance in 2023. His mobility is meaningful. His toughness is something that resonates with his teammates.
But is he really the anticipated starter for 2023? And even if he is, what’s the benefit of making that statement now?
Drinkwitz’s primary role at this point in the calendar is to serve as the team’s Chief Public Relations Officer. That might sound silly, but it’s true. His job is to sell, sell and then sell some more. Sell recruits on the plan for the program. Sell fans on why they should buy tickets. Sell boosters on why they should give more money for facilities.
Sell, Sell, Sell. Never stop selling.
That brings us back to the quarterback situation. Does another season with Cook as the expected starter really help to sell the program? Who was the intended audience for that statement?
The only answer I can come up with is one fans aren’t going to like: Drinkwitz really believes it. He wants Cook to know he’s the starter. He wants the team to know Cook is the starter. He wants fans to be prepared for the likelihood that Cook is once again going to be the team’s starting quarterback.
Either that, or it was a public misstep for a coach who has — for all his faults — been pretty good at selling his program to the public.
Quarterback competitions invite criticism, especially when the head coach has not yet earned the benefit of the doubt with his quarterback’s performances in previous seasons. This storyline is not going anywhere. Cook might not end up starting for the Tigers in 2023, but it sure feels like he’s the leader in the clubhouse to do exactly that.
Welcome to another offseason of quarterback competitions. I miss the good ‘ole days.