Eli Drinkwitz did not top Mizzou's list, but he may just be the perfect fit for the Tigers

Mizzou Athletics

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Eli Drinkwitz gets it. He wasn't Missouri's first choice to replace Barry Odom in one of the more roundabout coaching searches of the last silly season. Heck, the 36-year-old who made the leap from Appalachian State to the SEC may not have been Missouri's fourth choice.

"I wasn't the first choice of my wife," Drinkwitz countered. "I wasn't the first choice at App. I wasn't the first choice here. I was the best choice."

Eliah Drinkwitz is just getting started. Over lunch at Columbia staple G&D Pizzaria, he proclaimed one of Missouri's key advantages playing in the SEC East: climate.

"I always think if we play at home versus Florida outside of October, we'll beat 'em because they're not going to play in the cold weather. Period."

And his recruiting philosophy.

"I don't think you have to do it the way the rest of the SEC does it," Drinkwitz added. "Ole Miss is going to try to do it the way they've always done it, right? You don't have to do that at Mizzou."

Take that any way you want, but you get the intimation. This is either a snapshot of the new college coaching market or a backhanded shot delivered from the spicy new Missouri coach. Maybe both.

You see, Drinkwitz is not going to apologize. Why should he? This is the (highest-paid) time of his life. Missouri athletic director Jim Sterk is the one who, after sifting through other names, settled on giving Drinkwitz a six-year contract worth $4 million per season.

That after Drinkwitz went 12-1 at Appalachian State in his one and only year as a head coach. The new market doesn't blink at such movement. Mel Tucker left Colorado after a season. Chad Morris (Arkansas) and Willie Taggart (Florida State) got fired after less than two seasons.

$4 million is the new $2 million. Six years is the new four.

"I have no idea how much money is in my bank account," Drinkwitz said. "My wife does."

Put it this way: There's a lot more money in that account than one year ago at this time when Drinkwitz made $750,000 in the Sun Belt.

The times -- and contract terms -- are changing. Drinkwitz just happens to be riding the wave, coming along the right time for a desperate program.

When he signed the Missouri deal, Drinkwitz was suddenly making as much as LSU's national championship coach, Ed Orgeron. (Orgeron has since been gotten a raise to $7 million.) If Drinkwitz is fired without cause tomorrow, he is guaranteed a $20 million buyout, 70 percent of his total $24 million deal.

Perhaps most interesting, only three other coaches under 40 currently make at least $4 million a year: Mike Norvell (Florida State), P.J. Fleck (Minnesota) and Lincoln Riley (Oklahoma). That's a combined 14 years of head-coaching experience and four New Year's Six Bowl appearances.

The key to Drinkwitz's deal may be his agent, Jimmy Sexton. The man is the gold standard in the industry. It would be fair to say there was competition for Drinkwitz's services in the end between two SEC schools desperate to fill holes -- Arkansas and Missouri.

Mizzou won a bidding war. Sterk all but confirmed as much.

"It's a competitive marketplace," he said. "There were other people talking to him as well."

As for not being his wife's first choice?

"Best decision my wife ever made," Drinkwitz said. "She really thinks so [now]."

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Mizzou Athletics

The Drinkwitz Life -- as you may have surmised -- is good.  It got that way because, according to reports, the Missouri board of curators wasn't enamored with Sterk's initial list of candidates to replace Odom.

At one point, CBS Sports learned that an offer had been made to Arkansas State's Blake Anderson. Missouri officials denied Anderson had taken his name out of the running over protests about him from the curators' chairman.

In the end, Drinkwitz didn't want to subject his extended family to being the favorite son coming home to Arkansas. He and his wife Lindsey are high school sweethearts from Alma, Arkansas. A large part of the family still resides in the state.

If he had failed coaching the Razorbacks, Drinkwitz said he could "move back to North Carolina on the beach and who cares? But they can't do that. That's not fair to them."

"Mizzou gives me a fresh start, clean start."

You should have surmised by now that Missouri is desperate for relevance. Gary Pinkel brought it in both the Big 12 and SEC. The program's winningest coach took the SEC East in 2013 and 2014. Since then, the Tigers are 30-32 overall, 14-26 in league play.

The program needs juice, swagger. You won't see this reaction from Nick Saban after landing a recruit at Alabama.

Drinkwitz knows it was a perceived coin flip whether Odom -- a former Mizzou captain as a linebacker in the 1990s -- should have been fired after four seasons. Missouri was bowl eligible in the last three. He also gets there are currently only nine other FBS coaches who never played college football.

"First off, I usually find former players are the worst coaches," he said. "Could it help you? Great. Could it hurt you? Absolutely."

Why?

"If I was going to have open-heart surgery, do I want somebody who had open-heart surgery, or do I want the best-trained doctor to do it? To me, I want the best-trained doctor who went to the best med school. The fat slob who's already had open-heart surgery doesn't need to do it to me, right?"

Uh, right.

"What he is, is quick on his feet," Sterk said. "He is very quick thinking."

Drinkwitz will call his own plays on offense. The spread will reign. There has been mention he had won with Scott Satterfield's players in his one and only season at Appalachian State. You know who else won championships with someone else's players in their first season? Try Riley and Ohio State's Ryan Day.

And consider the opposite of not winning with someone else's players. Just ask Taggart and Morris.

The Mizzou program needs Drinkwitz's juice. There is a certain innocence to a guy who used to fetch food as Auburn's quality control coach. He still revels in geeking out over his heroes, once introducing himself to Bob Stoops at the 2018 National Football Foundation dinner in New York.

"I'm sure he's thinking, 'What in the world?'" Drinkwitz said.

Drinkwitz has been a part of five conference championships and a national championship. Last year's Sun Belt title was his third. Drinkwitz previously won the league as an assistant under Gus Malzahn (2012) and Bryan Harsin (2013) at Arkansas State. Harsin then took him to Boise State where the Broncos won the Mountain West in 2014.

That sparks Drinkwitz's two versions of Harsin, now the game's eighth-winningest active FBS coach.

"'Hars' is a hell of a guy," Drinkwitz said, "'Bryan' is a dickhead. Whichever one shows up to work, you know what the rest of the day is going to be like.

"If 'Hars' walks in, you're like, 'This is going to be a great day.' When 'Bryan' calls you a mother f'er on third down because you didn't get a conversion, here we go. Put your hard hat on."

And yes, Drinkwitz has a national championship ring from Auburn in 2010. Just ask him for his spot-on imitation of Malzahn. The relationship is so intimate with his mentor that Drinkwitz has committed to memory Gus' preferred menu during the week.

  • Jimmy John's: Italian Night Club with peppers
  • Five Guys: Burger with jalapenos, mayonnaise, lettuce and tomatoes
  • Chick-Fil-A: Sausage burrito, no onions, two salsa packets
  • Hardees: Loaded omelet biscuit for breakfast

Those memories still stick eight years after the two worked together.

That's also another snapshot of a not-the-first-choice coach who has no plans to apologize for that.

"It doesn't matter, as long as you get it right," Drinkwitz said. "I felt like it was right for me."

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Dennis Dodd has covered college football for CBS Sports since it was CBS SportsLine in 1998. He is one of only seven media members to attend all 16 BCS title games and has chronicled conference realignment... Full Bio

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