Last year brought several new coaches into the SEC fold. We were high on several of them, less so on others, and graded them accordingly. Today, we’re going to look back at those preliminaries assessments, measure the new hires’ accomplishments, and see if we can project a trajectory going forward.
We were not as prescient as we would have liked to have been.
Eli Drinkwitz, Missouri
2020 Record: 5-5 (No Bowl — ‘Rona)
2019 Record: 6-6 (3-5 SEC, No Bowl — NCAA doghouse)
What we said about his hiring:
We were generally positive, but there were far too many questions that remained unanswered.
Here was our bottom line:
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+
How did he do?
This is a case where the record doesn’t tell the full story.
Though Mizzou again finished .500, it did so against an all-SEC schedule, and as a result gained two full games over a 2019 season that saw Barry Odom get his walking papers. Missouri also dealt with one of the SEC’s worst outbreaks of the Coronavirus. Beginning the first week of November, and until the cancellation of their bowl game, Mizzou would frequently be absent several key players and at times suffer nearly full-blown outbreaks. Their contact tracing also left many sidelined even when case counts were low. That’s a tall order for a first-year coach at a new program with practically no talent to speak of.
Can Drinkwitz recruit in the SEC?
People may point to MU’s 11th place ranking in the SEC as reason for concern. But believe or not, that is a vast improvement over Barry Odom’s results. Not once in his time in Columbia did Odom finish above 13th in the SEC recruiting rankings. So, Drink was dealing with a roster that is only marginally more talented than Vanderbilt. An 11th place finish isn’t going to win the East, but it’s a damn sight better than what MU fans were accustomed to.
Was his Missouri squad competitive against the Georgias and Floridas of the world? Not particularly.
Against four of the five ranked teams MU faced, the Tigers lost every one by 19 points or more (they did pull off a huge upset over then No. 17 LSU). That is roughly the same track record as his predecessor, but there is some reason find optimism. Of Mizzou’s five losses, ones to ranked teams accounted for four; that is quite respectable considering the lack of talent in CoMo. Also that win over a ranked LSU team? It matches the total number of wins over ranked teams as Barry Odom’s entire four year tenure.
Did MU improve against the second-tier of the East?
This, along with improvements on Signing Day, is where we see the biggest impact in Drinkwitz’s coaching. Aside from a brutal loss to MSU in season finale, with Mizzou down to just 56 players because of the ‘Rona, Mizzou won games they were supposed to. And the important implication is that they didn’t lose games they should not have.
For Mizzou to go toe-to-toe against Kentucky, South Carolina, Arkansas, and LSU — and win them all — shows how good the job Drink did preparing and coaching this team. Almost as important, the Tigers didn’t lose close contests against those teams with more talent (or worse, drop a bad L to an awful Vanderbilt team).
From our lofty perch in Alabama Fandom, we can say that a school like Mizzou should be beating the Kentuckies of the world. But for a team that has spent years recruiting above only Vanderbilt, and MU facing a talent deficit every single Saturday, those wins against second-tier peers are not mere baby steps. They are perhaps harbingers.
It’s not going to be a miracle turnaround in Columbia; there simply aren’t enough horses in the stable yet to be competitive at the top tier of SEC play. But it is a testament in this trying season that Coach Drinkwitz was winning games he should, beating teams with far more talent (like LSU), not suffering inexcusable losses, and is now generating positive buzz around MU for the first time since Gary Pinkel retired.
The talent will eventually improve — the Tigers vaulted to 28th in recruiting after finishing 37th, 51st, 43rd, and 43rd under Barry Odom — and when they do, this will become a tough out in the East, and perhaps even contend in two or three seasons. Is that worth $4 million a year? Given the early results, it’s hard to argue with the Tigers’ pick here or the early returns. And though we were generally positive about Eli, he may actually prove to be a better hire than we initially suspected.
Final Grade: B+
After Year One, what grade would you give Eli Drinkwitz?
This poll is closed
C- or lower