So your defensive coordinator just got poached. Let’s talk about it.
The news that Blake Baker is leaving Mizzou — just weeks after signing an extension with Mizzou! — is a bit of a gut punch that puts a bit of a damper on what should have been a celebratory offseason. But, hey, this is college football. Bad things are going to happen.
Fortunately, the timing of the news gives Eli Drinkwitz and Desiree Reed-Francois ample time to find Baker’s replacement. It won’t be easy: Does anyone have a spare coordinator who can coach consecutive Top 20 units lying around? But there are a few candidates who make sense for the Tigers, including one that immediately jumps off the page. Let’s take a look, shall we?
DJ Smith, Missouri, Co-Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers Coach/Recruiting Coordinator
Not to put too fine a point on it, but this makes almost too much sense. Smith followed Drinkwitz from Appalachian State and has been on the rise ever since. Hired as a linebackers coach originally, Smith added the titles of Recruiting Coordinator and Co-Defensive Coordinator in short order and has overseen the rise of multiple stars and solid contributors in the linebacking corp — Nick Bolton, Blaze Alldredge, Ty’Ron Hopper, Chad Bailey, etc. Given the key role he has played in recruiting this roster and coaching it up, it would be somewhat surprising if he the “Co” in his title wasn’t removed.
Jim Leonhard, Illinois, Senior Football Analyst
If you want to go outside the program, no one brings as much in the way of high-end experience and availability as Jim Leonhard. The one-time defensive coordinator and interim head coach at Wisconsin, Leonhard spent five seasons as the Badgers’ DC. In that time, the Badgers annually had units that ranked in the Top 10 in total and scoring defense. He’s currently serving as a Senior Football Analyst under Brett Beliema at Illinois and should be available at a price comparable to what Baker was making. It’s hard to imagine you’d find a better candidate outside of Columbia than Leonhard.
Jimmy Rogers, South Dakota State, Head Coach
Let’s think outside the box for a second... and the FBS for that matter. Jimmy Rogers is about to finish his first season as the South Dakota State head coach by seeking the Jackrabbits’ second consecutive FCS national championship. In his one campaign as the school’s defensive coordinator, SDSU finished first in defensive SP+. In his one campaign as the school’s head coach, SDSU finished — you guessed it — first in defensive SP+. Does it help that he took over the machine that John Stiegelmeier created? Sure, but he had more than his fair share in the construction. Is it likely that he’d leave his alma mater and FCS royalty for a coordinator gig at Mizzou? No. But at least you can make the call!
Will Muschamp, Co-Defensive Coordinator/Safeties Coach, Georgia
Before you track me down to throw rotten fruit at me, indulge me for a second. Ah, I see you’re still prepping the fruit. I’ll be quick then...
Will Muschamp has fooled SEC teams more than once. Simply put, he’s not necessarily good for business, especially when you hire him as a head coach. But great news, Tiger fans: Will Muschamp would not come to Columbia as a head coach! He’s been working under Kirby Smart for the past three seasons and, while it’s not difficult to field an elite defense in Athens, Georgia has finished 1st, 3rd and 5th in defensive SP+ during his time there. Kirby Smart’s mentor has been known to fix up also-ran head coaches and make them palatable to the national landscape. Could Smart have done the same for Muschamp? And would he leave the confines of Georgia to be the sole DC under Drinkwitz? It’s unlikely we’ll find out, but the thought isn’t as crazy as it may seem.