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Losing Blake Baker hurts, but it shouldn’t be a death blow for Mizzou Football

It’s never good when your coaches get poached, but Eli Drinkwitz now has a clear formula for success on defense.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 25 Arkansas at Missouri Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The magic of the season never lasts as long as it should.

The vibes at Mizzou Football have been immaculate over the past few months. Players are getting All-American honors and going to the NFL. Transfers are breaking down the door to be a part of Eli Drinkwitz’s program. Coordinators are getting extensions and pay raises...

Wait, hold on. Strike that last point. At the very least, amend it.

Mizzou got the first bit of sobering news in a while on Friday night when it was reported that Defensive Coordinator Blake Baker would be leaving for the same position at Louisiana State University. Yes, the same school that declined to retain him just a few years ago is now standing outside Baker’s window with a giant boombox saying, “I’m so sorry, please come back.” And it seems to have worked!

The news is obviously a bit of a blow to Eli Drinkwitz and the program as a whole. Baker has been a revelation in Columbia, where he’s built a formidable, aggressive defense that just got a national showcase by blitzing Ohio State at the Cotton Bowl. Elite players want to play for Baker’s unit because, put simply, it’s fun! And coupled with Kirby Moore’s offense, the Tigers have turned into a two-headed, complementary monster.

The loss of Mizzou’s star defensive coordinator, especially to an in-conference opponent, will create some collateral damage. Chances are that we’ll see some players we really like enter the portal in the spring period, maybe some assistants too. It’s even possible that some of them will follow Baker to Baton Rouge. After all, Brian Kelly has reached northward before to poach from Mizzou. Drinkwitz will now have to spend time looking for an able replacement, creating uncertainty in recruiting. And rebuilding a defense that is losing multiple key pieces at every level becomes that much more complicated.

However, this shouldn’t be a death knell to the program. Maybe it shouldn’t even put too much of a damper on your expectations for next year.

Losing Baker now hurts, but it comes at something of a natural transition point for the program. Baker spent the past two seasons building this specific defense. The one with Ty’Ron Hopper streaking around the outside to blow up the backfield, the one with multiple bull-dozers on the interior of the line, the one with an elite cornerback tandem and safeties willing to blow dudes up in the middle of the field. And now that the dust has settled on an 11-2 season, we know that most of those key pieces won’t be around next year.

Yes, there are a lot of good players returning. But the 2024 season was always going to be something of a reset on defense. At best, you’re looking at some regression as players adapt to their roles as starters. At worst, it’s a noticeable step backward. Changing coordinators likely takes you more toward the latter on that spectrum, but it also doesn’t hurt as bad as it would’ve, say, last offseason.

Not to take away from what Baker brought to Mizzou either, but the formula for success in a Baker defense is pretty clear. Physical corners who are good in man coverage. Havoc-inducing linebackers. Good depth on the defensive line. It’s not as if those are particularly easy qualities to fill, but at least Eli Drinkwitz has a mold to fill. Three years ago, the defense was a blank blueprint. Now there are clear instructions to follow, ones that complement Drinkwitz and Moore’s approach to offense quite nicely.

And, as Brandon Kiley always pointed out on the podcast, this is exactly the type of situation you want to have with your coordinators. The nature of the position is transient; outside of the hyper-focused football minds, no one wants to stay a coordinator forever. And for as much as Mizzou heightened its national profile this year, it’s still not LSU. Coordinators will come and go, and you want to be able to bring guys in by saying, “Come here and I’ll get you an even better job down the line.” Blake Baker came to Columbia as a cast-off positional coach and something of a mixed bag as a DC. He leaves a much richer and more successful man. That type of position will be coveted by prospective candidates, and that’s a win for Mizzou Football.

Yes, losing Blake Baker hurts. It won’t be easy to watch LSU defenses fly all over the field for the next few years, assuming this hire works out nicely (which it should.) It’ll make things more complicated in 2024, when Mizzou looks to follow up an 11-2 campaign with bigger goals in sight.

But Baker’s time in Columbia has laid a firm foundation for whoever comes next. It may take a minute to get things back to speed, but there’s reason to believe Mizzou fans won’t have to wait too long to see another formidable defense.