Mizzou football coach Eli Drinkwitz reflects on journey, crossover with Arkansas before Friday's game

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  • Eliah Drinkwitz
    American football coach

Eli Drinkwitz was thinking of becoming a lawyer in his final days as a student at Arkansas Tech.

That was until he was pulled aside one day by Frank Vines, a longtime high school football coach in Drinkwitz's birthplace of Alma, Arkansas.

Vines pitched the idea of Drinkwitz becoming a football coach and becoming an assistant under him.

"And that was really the first time that I had any interest in that," Drinkwitz said. "And he hired me for my first job, and my No. 1 job as a seventh-grade coach was to make sure that everybody came back and played in eighth grade. To build togetherness, to make sure people have a unique experience."

After Drinkwitz's first job in 2005 as Alma's seventh-grade football coach, he quickly rose to become the offensive coordinator for bordering Springdale High School, working under longtime friend and former Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn.

Missouri head football coach Eli Drinkwitz and the Tigers visit Arkansas in the Battle Line Rivalry at 2:30 p.m. Friday.
Missouri head football coach Eli Drinkwitz and the Tigers visit Arkansas in the Battle Line Rivalry at 2:30 p.m. Friday.

The ascension Drinkwitz has had coaching football is well-known in Alma, but he refuted being a celebrity in his home metropolis.

The nomadic journey of Drinkwitz, now the Missouri head football coach, brings him back to Northwest Arkansas once more on Friday.

The Tigers face Arkansas in Fayetteville in both teams' regular-season finale in the Battle Line Rivalry.

More: What channel is the Missouri-Arkansas football game on Friday? How to watch Mizzou on TV

The Razorbacks haven't defeated Missouri on the gridiron since 2015, when Drinkwitz was in his final season as Boise State's offensive coordinator. That's three jobs ago for the 38-year-old Drinkwitz.

Drinkwitz hasn't coached at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium since 2011, when he was a quality control assistant at Auburn. Drinkwitz opted to use the full, old-school name of Arkansas' home stadium due to its namesake, Reynolds, being a Missouri graduate.

"I don't think there's any ill will in this game at all," Drinkwitz said. "I think it's a good, old-fashioned rivalry, to play for your state, your team as a competitor."

There are numerous connections between the teams.

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Missouri wide receiver Barrett Banister and defensive tackle Akial Byers are both from Fayetteville. Arkansas defensive linemen Tre Williams, a Columbia native, and Markell Utsey both played for the Tigers last season.

Arkansas head coach Sam Pittman was Missouri's offensive line coach in 2000. Razorbacks linebackers coach Michael Scherer played for MU from 2012-16 and coached in Columbia in 2019. Arkansas cornerbacks coach Sam Carter was a Tigers quality control assistant for four years.

Missouri defensive line coach Al Davis played for the Razorbacks from 2009-12 and coached in Fayetteville from 2014-16.

Of course, Arkansas defensive coordinator Barry Odom is heavily tied with Columbia and Missouri, spending nearly his entire coaching career in Boone County, most notably as the Tigers' head coach from 2016-19.

"Have you ever been to the Alma vs.Greenwood game? There's a lot of crossover connections there," Drinkwitz said. "... Maybe the Auburn vs. Alabama game there. That's rivalries, that's what makes them special, when there's so much interconnectedness and so much intrigue.

"I think about the Auburn vs. Alabama game in 2010. Eric Smith, our (running) back, his brother was a walk-on at Alabama. So it made it intriguing. I remember we weren't supposed to tell anybody any of the things we were doing because we were afraid it was going to leak to the other team, including the walk-ons.

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"So I've been in those kinds of rivalries that I think is exciting about the one that we're creating here with Arkansas and Mizzou."

Drinkwitz expects plenty of friends and family to attend Friday's showdown and couldn't put an exact number on it because his wife, Lindsey, handles his ticket brokering for every game.

Suffice to say, Drinkwitz understands it'll be a significantly sized travel party.

"I really haven't thought about it too much," Drinkwitz said of his homecoming of sorts. "At the end of the day, this isn't about me at all. It's really about our football team and about the guys playing, I'm sure it'll be surreal at some point, walking out, coming out from underneath there and being able to look where I used to sit when I would go to games. I think that'll be a little bit unique and interesting.

"But once the ball kicks, I'll be worried about converting third downs and when do we need to call timeouts and yelling and screaming at officials.

"So I probably won't get too caught up in it."

Contact Eric Blum at eblum@columbiatribune.com. Follow @ByEricBlum on Twitter.

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This article originally appeared on Columbia Daily Tribune: Mizzou coach Drinkwitz on crossovers before Missouri vs. Arkansas

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