What Just Happened? Vol. 74
On Sunday, Eliah Drinkwitz and University of Missouri officials consummated their weekend courtship. MU athletics director Jim Sterk realized he actually didn’t want a high-floor, low-ceiling investment after all. When you’re fleeing an average marriage, you don’t hop into the 2009 Honda Civic of Skip Holtz.
Lane Kiffin, a man of large appetites, was already revving his Corvette outside the Ole Miss house, wearing a devilish grin as he prepares to take the Rebels over an open drawbridge at 100 mph. It will be a fun ride for as long at it lasts. Sterk was in the market for a less reckless thrill.
Sam Pittman, the well-travelled salesman, was lumbering from his rented SUV toward Arkansas’ doorstep with a briefcase full of blocking schemes. Sterk needed something with a little more get-up-and-go.
The 36-year-old Drinkwitz was available at the peak of boom-or-bust mountain in Boone, North Carolina. He just went 12-1 and won the Sun Belt championship in his first year as a head coach at Appalachian State. A very generous offer of $4 million per year — possibly goosed by a leverage-killing leak that Sterk’s original list of Blake Anderson, Holtz and Jeff Monken wasn’t going to fly with the Board of Curators — sealed the deal. That seems like a lot of money for a coach with a short history, but it’s not my money, so what do I care?
Drinkwitz has shown he can coordinate a successful offense. He won big early after inheriting a powerhouse Group of 5 program. The rest, such as whether he can recruit and develop talent, is a mystery. But the visor and Waffle House drawl were giveaways that he was destined to stand behind a lectern on a mid-July day in a hotel conference center in Hoover, Alabama, and respond to requests to “talk about y’all’s offense.”
As recently as last week, Sterk appeared to have milder tastes. Of Sterk’s reported original three finalists, I thought Monken had the most impressive credentials, having resurrected Army. But he either was going bring a triple-option experiment to the SEC or change the offense that helped him become an intriguing candidate in the first place. Anderson and Holtz inherited successful Group of 5 programs at Arkansas State and Louisiana Tech and kept things going at a seven- to nine-win clip, which is fine but not inspiring for an SEC program that had averaged seven wins the last three years.
As Sterk was reminded, the time wasn’t right for a sensible run of Belk Bowl appearances. Missouri was in the mood to take a chance. That was the whole point of firing Barry Odom. Drinkwitz’s short résumé meant there was less to nitpick.
The obvious drawback to Drinkwitz is the unknown. He hasn’t had to win with his own players. The convoluted process that led Missouri officials to him also makes me question whether they had much more insight into who they were hiring than the average fan wowed by his gaudy record this season. If Sterk had heard great things about Drinkwitz through his contacts in the business, decided to fire Odom because he didn’t think Drinkwitz would be available in another year, built a consensus among his superiors and got his man, that would be a bold move. The way it happened showed a disturbing disconnect between Sterk and his ultimate bosses, the Board of Curators, and gave the impression he was scrambling at closing time to throw an offer at the nearest hot Group of 5 coach willing to be Mr. Right.
The BOC’s rejection of the original list accomplished the goal of redirecting Sterk’s search, which, at least in theory, was done for the good of the university. But the public shaming of the AD through a leak put someone’s personal agenda above the university’s reputation. That’s not helpful, no matter what you think of Sterk.
If Drinkwitz wins, the details of how he got here will be moot. At his introductory press conference, he impressively used the word “dogmatic,” invented a new region of Missouri called The Cod (unless this what Arkansans call the Bootheel behind our backs) and mercifully avoided the old knee-slapping invitation to take a gander at his wife when asked about his recruiting ability.
I have no idea if this will work out, but I thought Drinkwitz or his fellow promising young Sun Belt coaches such as Charlotte’s Will Healy or Louisiana’s Billy Napier — who both turned around subpar teams quickly — were the logical direction for a Missouri program willing to fire a .500 coach and take a swing at greatness. In a weird way, I have extra confidence in guys like Drinkwitz who didn’t play the game beyond high school and don’t look the part, because they started with no connections and outsmarted or outworked the competition up the ladder.
In a best-case scenario, Drinkwitz would turn out to be a younger version of one of his mentors, Gus Malzahn, and Missouri would gladly go along for that ride.
Defense of the Indefensible
In this week’s Defense of the Indefensible, I support coaching catchphrases.
Everyone is familiar with Ed Orgeron’s gravelly “Go Tigahs,” his signature finish to every interview. Little did I know that Pittman had coined his own signoff: “Yes Sirrr!”
Little did I know this because Pittman was an offensive line coach at Georgia delivering his line on social media after he landed verbal commitments. But now that he’s the head coach at Arkansas, his enthusiastic homespun affirmation, sounding very much like Jerry O’Neal of Continental Siding imploring us to “Cawl Nowww,” is getting a lot more attention.
Good for Pittman. Coaching stints are ephemeral, and it makes sense to lay the groundwork for what comes next, especially if what comes next is a reboot of the Blue Collar Comedy Tour.
Some closing thoughts on rooting against Drew Lock
After watching the Denver Broncos’ anemic offense during the dying days of the Joe Flacco era, I did not have high hopes former Mizzou star Drew Lock would succeed when coach Vic Fangio decided to give the rookie a shot late in the season. Lock was solid in his first start and spectacular in his second, which was great to see.
Now, though, he is visiting the Kansas City Chiefs, and this will require the tempering of my usual desire — rarely realized since the end of Marty Schottenheimer’s tenure — to see the opposing quarterback picking turf from his facemask, if not his teeth. This reminds me of 2008, when Jim Edmonds (my least favorite baseball player), played for the Chicago Cubs (my favorite team), and I was reduced to hoping he would be hit by a pitch in each at-bat as a compromise that would be unpleasant for him and beneficial to the team. It only happened once in 85 games.
An acceptable outcome Sunday would be for Lock to complete 10 of 10 passes, with each completion resulting in a lost fumble after the catch, followed by his trade to an NFC team.