Drinking the Kool-Aid: MU leaders all-in on new football coach Drinkwitz

A meeting at a North Carolina hotel brought in the Tigers’ new leader
Less than two weeks after firing Barry Odom, Missouri director of Athletics Jim Sterk and Chancellor Alexander Cartwright introduced Eli Drinkwitz as the new football coach on Tuesday. Photo by Eli Hoff

It was Saturday when Jim Sterk thought he might have found his guy.

One phone call later, Missouri’s Director of Athletics was convinced he knew who would be the next coach to lead his football program. It was the man who had just led Appalachian State to a 12-1 season and Sun Belt Conference Championship earlier in the day.

Sterk was ready to fly to North Carolina after the game to meet him in person.

There was only one thing that slowed Sterk down: Eli Drinkwitz was watching ballet.

One of Drinkwitz’s daughters was performing the Nutcracker that night, and there was no way he was missing it. Missouri would have to wait.

After the show, Drinkwitz drove to a Hampton Inn in the small North Carolina town of Wilkesboro to meet with Missouri’s representatives, including Sterk, MU Chancellor Alexander Cartwright, UM System President Mun Choi and members of the UM System Board of Curators.

The meeting was efficient: Deputy Athletics Director Nick Joos said Drinkwitz was essentially on board by the end of the night.

“It was a direct, open conversation about what the expectations of Mizzou football are and how we needed to go about accomplishing those,” Drinkwitz said.

Addressing Choi in his introductory press conference on Tuesday, the new coach hinted at what sold him at that moment: “President Choi, you are a hard man to say no to in a Hampton Inn with a cup of coffee in your hand. Holy cow. I need to take you on the road with me to recruit.”

Drinkwitz confirmed his acceptance of Missouri’s offer to the school on Sunday, Joos said, ending a slightly more than week-long coaching search. Sterk’s mission was complete.

“We went [to North Carolina] and made sure we brought him back,” Sterk said.

Sterk said more than 30 candidates were in the mix for Missouri’s head coach vacancy after the firing of Barry Odom on Nov. 30. Despite only a year of head coaching experience, the athletic department and Parker Executive Search Firm narrowed the field down to 36-year-old Drinkwitz.

That search required consulting within the program and far outside of it. Sterk said he gave his cell phone number to current players, inviting them to offer suggestions for the hire.

“They wanted someone to really take them to another level offensively,” Sterk said. “I think they wanted someone that cared about them, not just as football players [but] as a person and could lead them. They want to win. They were excited about it. They wanted to move forward.”

Sterk called Drinkwitz “probably one of the best” offensive coaches in the country, but it was the way he went about his work that impressed university leadership.

“The more that I get to talk to him, the more I realize so much of those intangibles … there’s all these little things that matter,” said Cartwright. “And I couldn’t help but think the whole time [we met], this person is a Tiger. He gets what Mizzou means.”

The amount of support that Drinkwitz has secured from his superiors was on full display during his introduction. While making his way to the podium, the new coach paused in front of former Missouri and NBA basketball player Jon Sundvold, now on the Board of Curators, to pretend to shoot a basketball.

“Your belief in me is a powerful gift,” Drinkwitz told the board. “And belief is the most powerful thing to effectively produce change … when the leadership is on board with that, great things can happen.”

Edited by Wilson Moore | wmoore@themaneater.com

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