Truman the Tiger and members of the University of Missouri’s Golden Girls and cheer team lined up to greet fans as they entered the Show-Me Club in the South End Zone facility at Memorial Stadium.
Current defensive coordinator Ryan Walters and defensive line coach Brick Haley, as well as a number of current Missouri football players, were spread throughout the room. Men’s basketball head coach Cuonzo Martin and former football coach Gary Pinkel were in attendance. Numerous tables and rows of seats were filled with the Missouri faithful.
A large, energetic contingent of the Mizzou community packed the Show-Me Club at 10:45 Tuesday morning to welcome the newest head coach of the Missouri football team, Eliah Drinkwitz, who just hours earlier received unanimous approval by the Board of Curators to take the job left open after the firing of Barry Odom on Nov. 30.
“I think (the fans are) excited. I think, obviously last year didn’t go as well as we expected, but I think all of the fans are excited that Coach Drinkwitz is going to bring in the recruits, the staff, and put together a winning, great season,” quarterback Connor Bazelak said.
It wasn’t long ago that fans were beginning to turn on those in charge of the coaching search, especially athletic director Jim Sterk. When reports of the Board rejecting Sterk’s initial list of candidates surfaced — though Board chair Jon Sundvold denied any formal meetings had taken place — fans were quick to voice their displeasure with the names on that list.
However, once more reports surfaced saying Drinkwitz would become the new coach, energy in the fanbase seemed to be revitalized in an instant. A young, offensive minded coach with Power Five and head coaching experience? Those checked off some boxes from Sterk’s initial thoughts on his ideal head coach, and that looks to be enough for the Tigers’ supporters.
Throughout the introductory press conference, speakers consistently heaped praise upon Drinkwitz, who had to guide Appalachian State to the Sun Belt Conference championship and watch his daughter perform in The Nutcracker before agreeing to take the job. Every school leader who had the chance to speak expressed their belief that the school had made the perfect choice for the football program.
“We are in an era of bold and transformative leadership at Mizzou, and our new hire fits that bill,” Board of Curators member Darryl Chatman said. “Coach Drinkwitz represents the excellence that we are striving for every day at Mizzou.”
“In my first conversation with (Drinkwitz), it convinced me immediately that we had found the right person. That this was who should be our next coach,” MU Chancellor Alexander Cartwright said. “... I couldn’t help but think the whole time: ‘This person is a Tiger. He gets what Mizzou means.’”
“It took a lot to bring him (in),” Sterk said. “It’s a competitive market out there, but we got our guy.”
As Cartwright and Sterk spoke, they reminisced about the search. Cartwright talked about the week-long process, and how it felt like it lasted much longer. Sterk discussed the feeling that he and his search team had been out in North Carolina more than they’d been in Missouri.
But when Marching Mizzou began to play the Missouri Waltz as Drinkwitz, his wife, Lindsey, and their daughters walked through the doors of the Show-Me Club, the energy reverberating throughout the crowd made the entire process seem worth it.
On first impression, Drinkwitz’s passion for football is clear. He met the current Tiger football players Monday night, and even those who publicly supported Odom throughout Missouri’s trying 2019 season were impressed by the energy he exuded. Defensive end Chris Turner said he hasn’t yet gotten to know Drinkwitz as a coach, but the energy factor... it’s there.
“I honestly don’t know much about him, but like I said, I do like his energy. So that’s one thing,” Turner said. “But going from here forward, I’m going to try my best to learn everything I can about him and see if I feel like I can work with him.”
“I think I feel good about him.”
Only time will tell whether Drinkwitz is going to be “the guy” that Odom didn’t end up being.
Drinkwitz has only one year of experience as a head coach under his belt. He’s proven he can maintain a winning program, but hasn’t yet proven he can build one. Only two of the last eight recruiting classes he’s helped secure have been in the top 50 (No. 26 in 2018, No. 50 in 2016).
But there’s something about a guy who’s devotion to the game can get a fanbase buzzing.
Drinkwitz had officially been the new head coach for just over two hours by the time he stepped to the podium, but when he repeatedly stated his love for Mizzou football, the crowd truly seemed to believe him. He could be the next Pinkel in terms of being a guy that not only fans but also school leaders want to see stick around for the long haul.
As UM System President Mun Choi began his opening statement, he looked Drinkwitz right in his eyes and told him, “Coach, this is your new home. Get used to it. You’re going to be here a long time,” while the crowd cheered in approval.
“I know in my heart and in my soul and in my spirit, this is the right place for me and my family at the right time for Mizzou football,” Drinkwitz said.
The right time for a new coach, yes, and if he lives up to the hype, the right place indeed.