‘He has that vision:’ Missouri players look forward to future under Drinkwitz

The team was introduced to its new coach Monday night.
Junior defensive lineman Chris Turner blocks a Vanderbilt player during Missouri's loss to the Commodores on Oct. 19. Photo by Madeline Carter

When news first broke on Twitter late Sunday evening that Eli Drinkwitz had been hired as Missouri’s next football coach, it was the first that any of the players had heard of it.

That’s not uncommon in the social media age, but some players — mainly junior linebacker Aubrey Miller Jr. — weren’t pleased with the lack of communication.

By the time Drinkwitz was officially announced as Missouri’s new coach on Tuesday morning, however, the team seemed to have come around to its new coach. Several attended the news conference in the South End Zone’s Show-Me Club, even after having a chance to talk with the former Appalachian State coach on Monday night.

Players who were available for comment on Tuesday mentioned Drinkwitz’s energy, offensive mindset and vision for the future.

“I think his vision is the main thing that stuck out to me,” redshirt sophomore slot receiver Barrett Banister said. “He talked about winning the SEC East and winning our bowl game and doing it with class, character and academic excellence. I think that’s awesome. You gotta have a foundation of what you’re building on and obviously he has that vision and we’re excited to get to go.”

Banister had a breakout end to the 2019 season, hauling in 157 of his 246 yards in the final four games. With redshirt senior Johnathon Johnson set to graduate, Banister — who replaced Johnson when he missed the end of the season due to injury and sickness — will be a probable starter for the 2020 season.

Another possible first stringer who spoke highly of Drinkwitz was quarterback Connor Bazelak. The freshman met Drinkwitz previously when the then-North Carolina State University offensive coordinator recruited him as a junior in high school.

“I was excited,” Bazelak said. “I think it was helpful, a guy coming in that I knew and I’m familiar with to be our head coach.”

While Bazelak will take a redshirt for the 2019 season, he did appear in three games for the Tigers. In Missouri’s final game of the season against Arkansas, Bazelak even earned the start, but went down early in the first half with a torn right ACL. He will have surgery on Thursday, and said he plans to “attack” rehab and be ready for the 2020 season.

“I’m definitely excited to work with [Drinkwitz] in the spring and the next couple of years,” Bazelak said. “Obviously from knowing him, [he’s a] really smart guy. He really likes to build relationships with all his players and recruits.”

Even though Drinkwitz is an offensive-minded coach, the complete opposite of Barry Odom, Missouri’s defensive players seemed optimistic about him as well.

“I can’t speak for other guys,” junior defensive lineman Chris Turner said. “We haven’t really talked about it much … he has high energy, I feel like he’s really passionate about what he does and I really like that about him.”

Turner also mentioned that the past week and a half had been a bit of a whirlwind for him and his teammates, starting with Odom’s firing.

“It was kind of shock at first,” Turner said. “I didn’t expect it. I don’t even think my coaches expected it, so just getting through that and sitting down with him … this was kind of stressful, but I’m glad we got somebody in.”

During the coaching search, Missouri Director of Athletics Jim Sterk spoke with players about what they were looking for in their next coach. He said that he received “a lot of input” after giving out his cell number for players to reach him.

“I talked to the entire team and then we took some offensive, defensive players and met with them in a smaller group so that they could feel good,” Sterk said.

The team met with Drinkwitz on Monday night when he arrived in Columbia. He shook every player’s hand, and those who had already gone home after finishing finals received a phone call.

“[I’m] excited to start building a relationship, and relationships are going to take time,” Drinkwitz said. “We're going to work every single day to build trust and respect.”

Edited by Wilson Moore | wmoore@themaneater.com

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