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Grading the SEC Carousel: If anyone defines a risky “wait-and-see” it’s Mizzou’s Eliah Drinkwitz

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Grading the hires

Appalachian State v South Carolina Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images

Yesterday was eventful, wasn’t it?

Three open SEC jobs, three hires in about 18 hours. And, as expected, the real dominoes started to fall once Memphis’ Mike Norvell made official what we’ve know for about two weeks — He’s off to begin a reclamation project on the tire fire in Tallahassee. Honestly, I think he’ll succeed too: He’s my hands-down choice to replace Saban when Nick hangs up the straw boater in a few years. Fantastic recruiter, young, wins big games, great offensive pedigree, best special teams coach in America, and smart enough to know to hire competent people on defense and then stay out of the way. What’s not to love?

And, with that hiring on Saturday night, came the near-simultaneous news that Lane Kiffin was back in the bigs, and moreover back in the SEC. With the two most-prized candidates off the table, there were several other good G5 guys vying for spots at one of the SEC’s two remaining jobs. The carousel didn’t linger long either. By yesterday evening, they would be filled.

So, let’s see what our conference brethren actually inherited and how they fit. We start with Missouri — a team that made the riskiest move of them all.

Eliah Drinkwitz: Missouri via Appalachian State

This may be the biggest risk-reward hire of all three vacancies. Bear with me for a second as I explain:

Mizzou is the team best-positioned with its roster to win now. For all of Odom’s gaffes, the Native Son spent the last three years building up line depth and stockpiling very good running backs — always a plus in the SEC. It has the least demanding boosters and fans. It is in the favorable division. It has the most stable athletic and university administration. It’s a university that doesn’t seethe with cronyism and corruption. And it’s a clean program.

So, there’s not much leeway for a learning curve here. The expectations, and rightly so, are that Drinkwitz comes in and puts together a solid class and wins immediately. No, he need not 10-2 or anything. But, he very much must improve on last year’s record (5-7), play better on the road, field a more consistent team, and bring in some revenue after this year’s bowl ban. Those expectations are intensified even more with news that his contract is for $4 million a year — that is Mizzou finally showing a commitment to building a winner. Can he deliver?

Drinkwitz has a razor-thin resume though, at least as a complete coach. He has just one season under his belt, but it was a doozy — the App. State Mountaineers knocked off both North Carolina and South Carolina on the road. They claimed the Sun Belt title, and he earned a 12-1 record. Offensively, you couldn’t ask for a much better background though. He worked under Gus at Arkansas State and then he was a Co-OC under Brian Harsin at Boise State. He had three years as an OC under Dave Doeren at NC State, where the Wolf Pack offense was balanced and improved every season. Then he bolted for Boone, where ASU led the Sun Belt in offense and finished second in defense.

But, that is the G5 equivalent of being born on third and thinking that you hit a triple, isn’t it?

There is no more talented team in the Sun Belt than ASU, a long-time former FCS powerhouse. There’s no more stable program in the conference either. And, much like Fresno State and La. Tech and Boise State before them, the Mountaineers will play anyone, anywhere and put the scare into major conference foes. So, it’s not exactly like Eliah inherited East Popcorn State — the Mountaineers team he took over went 11-2 and won the conference under now-Louisville coach Scott Satterfield. You have to go back to 2015 to see when ASU did not last win its conference...and they still won 11 games.

Risky? You bet. Drinkwitz won with Scott Satterfields’ players. He won under a program that Satterfield built and in that framework. He won at a school that is obsessed with football and has very good dedicated resources for a G5. It was a self-licking ice cream cone.

But, what we don’t know could fill a 4”-binder. What are his program-building chops? Can he recruit in the SEC? What does he even know about the very difficult footprint that Mizzou has to operate in and how to attract players? How can he play along at a school that wants to be known as an academic powerhouse more than an athletic one? Can he handle the scrutiny of the major media market press that he absolutely must navigate in KC and St. Louis. Can he win at a level worth a $4 million contract and win now? Did Mizzou overpay, for that matter? Can he be competitive with the Floridas and Georgias of the division while dispatching the second-tier and get in the divisional discussion?

But, considering what he inherits, Drinkwitz doesn’t have long to show his hand either...nor to begin to answer those. That’s a lot of pressure on the 36-year-old, especially when there were more experienced candidates that could have been lured to CoMo.

For now, let’s say that it’s “on the good end of a decent hire, even if Missouri way overpaid.”

Our Grade: B-/C+

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