Fans have high expectations for Eliah Drinkwitz, the newly named University of Missouri head football coach. But a former college president’s research has found that if history holds, Tigers fans’ hopes could be dashed.
Former Kansas State University President Jon Wefald estimates that Drinkwitz, or any coach in a similar position, has at best a 30% chance of success.
“I’m not a mathematician,” said Wefald, who retired from Kansas State in 2009. “I just use common sense. Quite a few people have read my paper, and no one disagrees with the 30%.”
Wefald came up with his “Wefald Rule” based on examining decades of data for coaches hired at Power Five schools. He published his research in the Manhattan Mercury.
A streaky tenure
The Missouri Tigers thought they had the right fit in 2016 when they hired Barry Odom, who played at Mizzou, to succeed Gary Pinkel. During the 2017 season, Odom’s second year on the job, the Tigers lost five out of their first six games.
Clearly frustrated, Odom went on a rant in September of that season.
“This is when the going gets tough. You build them together, you fight together and you go find a way to get it done,” he said. “That’s where we’re at. It’s part of a turnaround process that is not going to be easy.”
The streaky Tigers ended the 2017 regular season with six wins in a row and lost in the Texas Bowl against the Texas Longhorns.
Last year, the Tigers were sitting at 4-4 before finishing with four straight wins in the regular season and an invitation to the Liberty Bowl on New Year’s Eve in Memphis.
Oklahoma State defeated the Tigers, 38-33, in the Liberty Bowl, but MU senior quarterback Drew Lock of Lee’s Summit said he was optimistic about the 2019 Tigers.
“We have a really, really good team,” said Lock. “It’s going to keep getting better every single year because of the man sitting here next to me.”
Lock, who is now the starting quarterback for the Denver Broncos, was referring to Odom sitting at the same postgame news conference table.
Mizzou fans were hopeful, too, about 2019 because of high-caliber returning players like Larry Rountree III, who ran for 204 yards in the Liberty Bowl.
But the 2019 season started flat with a 37-31 loss at Wyoming. Then the Tigers lived up to their tendencies as a streaky team under Odom. Things went south when the Tigers dropped five out of their last six games to finish the year at 6-6. Odom was fired on the morning of Nov. 30, the day after the regular season ended.
A rapid ascent
This year at Appalachian State, Drinkwitz’s only season as a college head coach, he guided the Mountaineers to a 12-1 record and the Sun Belt Conference championship.
Before that, he was an assistant coach at North Carolina State, Boise State, Arkansas State and Auburn, during the team’s 2010 national championship season.
Drinkwitz is aware of one challenge he’ll face in his new role--Mizzou’s 2020 scholarship reductions because of NCAA penalties, but he still said Missouri is the right opportunity.
“This is the right one for me with the right people with the right support,” he said. “I firmly believe that we can do great things together.”
At K-State, Wefald hired College Football Hall of Fame coach Bill Snyder, who had 215 wins in 27 years as head coach there.
Wefald offered this advice for other schools seeking the same success: “The right fit is a coach that shows respect for everyone. starting with his coaches and his players.”
In Columbia, Missouri athletics director Jim Sterk said he has had support from university leadership, but he knows that all eyes are on him with the Drinkwitz hire.
“It’s a visible position. It’s one that the state can rally around,” said Sterk. “Yes, we’re making this choice, but who knows what the future holds?”
Greg Echlin is a freelance sports reporter.