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Eli Drinkwitz deserves trust in hiring Corey Batoon

Mizzou’s head coach has a good track record hiring coordinators. Why should Corey Batoon be different?

While you are currently reading the lede for this article, somewhere in Columbia, Mo., Corey Batoon is settling into life as Mizzou’s defensive coordinator. Maybe he’s sitting through some HR seminars. Maybe he’s signing paperwork. Maybe he’s drinking coffee and FaceTiming with recruits!

This time last week, it’s very probable that you didn’t know who Corey Batoon was or care what he did with his mornings. That’s because he wasn’t on many of our big boards of Mizzou defensive coordinator candidates. We proposed Jim Leonhard might be a good candidate. DJ Smith seemed like the in-house choice. The more ambitious of us thought Jesse Minter might want to don a new Block M.

Yet here the native Hawaiian is, charged with leading Mizzou’s “Death Row” defense. More specifically, he’s being asked to prevent a big drop-off for a unit that will lose most of its starters and support an offense that looks to lead Mizzou to a playoff bid in the first year of the CFP’s 12-team system. That would be a tall task for anyone, much less a coach who hasn’t served as a DC at a Power Four program.

While there hasn’t been a noticeable outcry over Batoon’s hiring — it seems the positive feelings from a New Year’s Six win can extend beyond having your defensive coordinator! — there was some consternation about the amount of time it took for Drinkwitz to get there. Shouldn’t a program on the rise, one that expects to compete for a CFP bid in 2024, be able to land a coveted candidate relatively quickly?

If you’ve been following Eli Drinkwitz (and listening to Before the Box Score), you’ll know that this process played out exactly how Drink prefers: low (key) and slow. Drinkwitz prefers to work in secrecy, and he likes to take his time finding the guy he thinks will be the right fit at the right time. Maybe some of those earlier names were in the running, or maybe Batoon was the guy all along. Maybe Drinkwitz didn’t have a clear-cut favorite until several rounds of interviews!

It’s certainly an unconventional way of doing business in college football these days. Alabama replaced Nick Saban — Nick Saban! — in 72 hours. Washington replaced Kalen DeBoer in 48. Arizona replaced Jedd Fisch in 24! By contrast, it took Drinkwitz just over 500 hours to offer Batoon the gig. But thus far, it’s worked out.

In his four years as Mizzou’s head coach, Eli Drinkwitz has had four total coordinators work under him, three on defense and one on offense.

  • Ryan Walters was retained from Barry Odom’s staff for one season and hired away by Illinois after one year. He’s moving into his third season as Purdue’s head coach.
  • Steve Wilks, possibly Drinkwitz’s worst hire in his time as HC, was slow on the uptake for the college game before going back to the NFL; he’s a hot candidate on the head coaching circuit this season and will coach the 49ers’ defense in Super Bowl LVIII in two weeks.
  • Blake Baker made Mizzou’s defense a top 20 unit in two consecutive years before being made the country’s highest-paid assistant by LSU.
  • Kirby Moore turned the Tigers’ offense into a top 15 unit and was signed to a contract extension after one season.

I can’t tell you how you felt about the three hires at the time. But it’s not out of bounds to say all of them were, at best, widely questioned. Wilks was an out-of-work NFL defensive coach who hadn’t coached in college ball for 16 years. Baker was a journeyman defensive coach who had yet to find meaningful, consistent success at as a coordinator. Moore had spent one season as the OC at Fresno State and hadn’t coached at a high major school. At the very least, none of Drink’s hires were celebrated as no-doubters. And yet three of the guys that have worked under him now have better jobs. The other one is still at Mizzou after the Tigers had to fend off other Power 5 programs from taking him.

This isn’t to say Batoon is going to turn out like the other four coordinators that have worked under Drinkwitz. That’s the thing about coaching hires at this level — you can’t make a value judgement right away. Only time will judge Corey Batoon’s performance at Mizzou. Maybe he flames out after a season and goes back to coaching mid-majors. Or maybe he keeps the train on the tracks and Mizzou is playing in the CFP next winter.

Either way, Eli Drinkwitz deserves some trust for his unusual hiring practices. Corey Batoon wasn’t on many of our long lists to deal with the massive turnover Mizzou’s defense is facing. But according to Drinkwitz, he’s the right guy to do it. His judgments in that arena have tended to work out.