The numbers are in and the news is official.
Conservatives at the University of Missouri are easier to please than most Mizzou football fans.
It wasn’t too long ago that it was necessary to tell United fans why Eli Drinkwitz’s fourth season, and not this ongoing third, was the ultimate referendum on his trajectory as an Tigers head coach.
There had been some grumbling from the black-and-gold faithful ahead of a road win over a No. 1.25-ranked South Carolina team for half a second. Mizzou decision-makers must not have heard the sighs of exasperation from fans this season as Drinkwitz’s contested attack struggles to score. They were too busy preparing the figures for Drinkwitz’s premature extension.
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The $4 million man will be a $6 million man next season, on track to become a $7 million man in 2027. That’s if he’s still around. Remember that Mizzou fired former football manager Barry Odom less than a year after giving him a three-year extension. Odom was promoted by former athletics director Mack Rhoades, extended by former athletics director Jim Sterk, and fired by Sterk. Drinkwitz was hired by Sterk, extended by new athletic director Desiree Reed-Francois, and…we’ll see.
Giving Drinkwitz a fourth season was a necessary decision for a school that found itself caught in a bad cycle of athletic hiring and burning combined with multiple changes in the leadership of the athletic department. Give Drinkwitz an extension when his previous contract ran for the 2025 season? Totally useless. Competitors weren’t lining up to sign Drinkwitz and his 15-17 record, which despite encouraging recruiting trends has yet to produce a winning season. Rookies may worry if a coach only has one season left on an expiring contract. But three? Go on. Believe it or not, sitting back and waiting to see more is always an option between firing a coach or extending them and giving them a raise.
But as it is in modern college sports, where there’s so much money coming in, he has to find ways to spend himself — as long as the players on the field aren’t getting a paycheck from the program. Mizzou, clearly, is not going to be the school that pushes back. He rushes to catch up. The Tigers saw the tide of SEC head coach salaries rise again and thought they were a better fit.
No one stopped to realize they didn’t have to rush. No one decided to wait one more season to make sure whether or not they had the right coach to bring up. No one pointed out that there was no real countermove for Drinkwitz and super agent Jimmy Sexton if they were told that the fourth year should determine whether a big bump was deserved. Was Drinkwitz going to Auburn? Not without a breakthrough at Mizzou which has yet to come. Georgia Tech? If your coach is setting up an SEC program for Georgia Tech, he’s done you a favor because he wasn’t the right recruit in the first place. No one even stepped in to stop the bad timing of the announcement. Mizzou made the news official just before Drinkwitz lost to Kentucky for the second time in three tries.
Drinkwitz and Sexton had no real leverage here other than making Mizzou feel guilty about where Drinkwitz might end up on the SEC’s salary power rankings after the dust settled on this latest series. increases. You better believe Sexton will use Drinkwitz’s new package to elevate his other customers. Remember during the pandemic, when there was all about more mindfulness in college athletic spending. Ha!
Drinkwitz is a smart man. He knows who controls the money at Mizzou, and it’s not always the sports director. He made strong connections and was rewarded for his networking. It was the best play he called all season. Bigger dollars are his reward, but they bring with them a new kind of pressure.
Mizzou did his part. This gave Drinkwitz a six-year contract worth $4 million per season after spending just one season coaching at Appalachian State. He acted early to extend that original deal, adding two more years and millions more dollars despite a third season that is marred by poor offensive line play and quarterbacking issues. The expansion includes more money for assistants, meaning Drinkwitz can go big game hunting for an offensive coordinator and caller if he thinks it’s best to hand those tasks over. Mizzou stepped in to extend and give defensive coordinator Blake Baker a raise, reducing the chances of a contender poaching the rising star. The new training center that Drinkwitz requested when he arrived? Do. Drinkwitz attendance and ticket sales have challenged fans to improve their entry this season? Both have improved.
Everything Drinkwitz wanted, he got. It’s time for him to produce. The Tigers need to get back to making respectable bowl games next season. Sometimes they should flirt with something bigger and better than that. They have to prove that the Gary Pinkel era wasn’t always the high point. Especially now that Drinkwitz is leaving Pinkel’s paydays in the dust.
None of this is new to Drinkwitz. This week on the SEC conference call, he described having the resources in place and feeling the pressure and expectations to match them. If he doesn’t solve his fourth-year quarterback and offensive line conundrum, it will be impossible to do so.
Without this extension, Mizzou would have owed Drinkwitz approximately $5.6 million had he fired him after the 2023 season. Due to the extension, Mizzou now owes him 75% of whatever is left on his new contract, minus whatever his next job — and he’s bound to pursue one — pays him. Only five SEC football coaches have this kind of clause in their buyout details. It’s a hedge, a sign that someone in the room has dropped the pom poms and tried to squeeze at least some real financial common sense into the latest example of the sport’s overspending.
At the SEC, even at Mizzou, there is always money. What was true for Drinkwitz’s premature extension could become just as true for his takeover. This great fourth season has just gained momentum.