Coaching staff brings mix of new, old faces for Missouri

Eliah Drinkwitz brought in several coaches he’s worked with in the past as three remain from last year for the Tigers.

Curtis Luper was the co-offensive coordinator at Texas Christian University in December when he began hearing rumors that Eliah Drinkwitz was in contention for several head coaching vacancies around the country.

Luper had worked with Drinkwitz at Auburn University several years prior and liked the idea of a reunion — but he wouldn’t go just anywhere to work with his former colleague. The veteran offensive guru had a specific job in mind. He sent his friend a text.

“If you get that one,” it read, “I’d definitely be interested.”

Both sides knew what “that one” referred to.

On Dec. 20, ten days after Drinkwitz was hired to coach Missouri, Luper officially joined the staff as the running backs coach.

“I had never been at a place where it was the flagship university of the state,” Luper said. “There was Oklahoma State, and there was OU. There was Auburn, and there was Alabama. We’re tired of that.”

There are three holdovers from the 2019 coaching staff, but the rest came from various connections to Drinkwitz from previous jobs.

Like Luper, tight ends coach Casey Woods expressed interest in a job on Drinkwitz’s staff long before he was actually hired. Woods’ talks with Drinkwitz, however, came long before either set foot on campus at Missouri. While at the University of Alabama-Birmingham before the 2019 season, Woods had conversations about joining Drinkwitz at Appalachian State. Those fell through, but Woods jumped on the opportunity to come to the Southeastern Conference a year later.

“Southeastern Conference, easy,” Woods said. “Eli Drinkwitz, easy. A chance to play at the top level, easy. So it was a no-brainer when I had an opportunity to come here. I was on the first plane out of Birmingham.”

Drinkwitz, Woods, Luper and special teams coordinator Erik Link all first worked together in 2010 at Auburn. As they went their separate ways in the ensuing years, there remained a hope they could all be on the same staff again someday.

“When you have success together, you would love to get back together at some point, and it rarely happens in our professions,” Luper said. “When one person leaves, ‘Hey, love to coach with you again.’ Well, very seldom does that opportunity present itself, and it did here, and we’re all excited.”

While Luper and Woods were eager to arrive in Columbia, others were hoping to remain there. Defensive coordinator Ryan Walters, defensive line coach Brick Haley and secondary coach David Gibbs are the only three assistants from Barry Odom’s 2019 coaching staff working for the new regime.

Haley was briefly Missouri’s interim coach after Odom’s firing and was retained a week after Drinkwitz arrived. Walters, whose defense emerged as one of the best in the SEC last season, was retained three days later.

“We had a couple conversations, but as we had those conversations it became more evident that we both wanted to kind of hang around,” Haley said. “So there was a mutual agreement at some point in time I would stay.”

Compared to the getting-the-gang-together feel of the recruitment of the other assistants, there was a much more subdued feel of relief for the returners getting their jobs back.

“It’s just uncertainty,” Walters said. “I wasn’t worried about not having a job somewhere, but just the uncertainty of not knowing where that place was gonna be. Like I said, I’m blessed to be here in this community and my family really likes it here.”

Edited by Eli Hoff | ehoff@themaneater.com

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