【AL】 Why Missouri’s Eli Drinkwitz ‘will always be indebted’ to Bryan Harsin – Alabama News

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Eli Drinkwitz may not be in the position he is today, as head coach at Missouri, had it not been for Bryan Harsin.

Back in late-2012, Drinkwitz was contemplating the next step in his career. He’d spent that season as running backs coach at Arkansas State under Gus Malzahn, but his future was in flux after Malzahn accepted the head coaching job at Auburn at the end of the season. Drinkwitz was offered an off-field role on Malahn’s staff at Auburn, and while it would have given him a chance to return to the SEC — and to Auburn, where he got his first opportunity as a quality control assistant in 2010 — it was also a step down, from on-field coach to behind-the-scenes staffer.

In stepped Harsin, who was hired as Malzahn’s successor at Arkansas State after two years as Texas’ offensive coordinator. It was Harsin’s first head-coaching opportunity, and he needed to quickly assemble his inaugural staff. Drinkwitz interviewed for a position and a chance to provide some coaching continuity for the Red Wolves.

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Drinkwitz had no prior connections to Harsin, nor did he really know the newly hired Arkansas State coach. Yet on Dec. 27, 2012, Harsin announced he was retaining Drinkwitz as running backs coach and giving him the title of co-offensive coordinator.

“Coach Harsin gave me an opportunity and believed in me when not very many other people did and really kept me in college football in 2013,” Drinkwitz said Tuesday. “So, I’m very appreciative to him for that and will always be indebted to him and the opportunity he gave me and my family to stay in college football. So, I have a lot of respect for him as a football coach and as a person.”

It was a low-risk, high-reward move for Drinkwitz, who didn’t necessarily want to make another leap of faith into an off-field role like he did in 2010 at Auburn. That year, he went from a $90,000 a year job at a teacher and coach at Springdale High in Arkansas to a $13,000 quality control position behind the scenes at Auburn with limited savings to fall back on. Of course, that decision paid off, with Drinkwitz saying the 2010 season—when Auburn had “the best quarterback on the planet” in Cam Newton and won a national title — made him think “college football was easy.”

“There’s not much of a parachute there,” Drinkwitz said. “It was a risk, for sure, but that’s where the fun is, man — taking risks and seeing if you got the right stuff.”

Harsin’s decision to retain Drinkwitz at Arkansas State provided the then-29-year-old coach reassurance that he, in fact, had the right stuff to cut it as a college coach.

Drinkwitz spent the next three years working under Harsin, first at Arkansas State in 2013, then in 2014 and 2015 at Boise State after Harsin took over at his alma mater. Drinkwitz was the Broncos’ tight ends coach in 2014 when they went 12-2 and won the Fiesta Bowl, and then he was promoted to quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator in 2015, when the program finished 9-4.

During their time together, Drinkwitz naturally learned plenty from Harsin from an offensive perspective. He learned “the Boise State offense and model” during their first season at Arkansas State, and he was tasked with taking that system and infusing into it some of the tempo, no-huddle style Drinkwitz learned from working with Malzahn.

Drinkwitz’s offense — and Harsin’s, for that matter — has progressed over the years. He took what he learned under Harsin to N.C. State, where he spent three seasons as offensive coordinator under Dave Doeren, and used it propel him toward his first head coaching opportunity in 2019 at Appalachian State.

“Through the course of however many different coaches have come in and out and worked with me, we’ve developed our pro-tempo style,” Drinkwitz said. “But when you really dig it down to the core, there’s going to be some same things that we all believe in: downhill runs, controlled pass game, vertical throws off play-action, and then we all love tricks and specials.”

Now Drinkwitz is in his third season at Missouri, where his team will face off against Harsin’s Auburn program Saturday at 11 a.m. in Jordan-Hare Stadium (ESPN). It will be the first time the two coaches have gone toe-to-toe since their paths diverted after the 2016 season.

Along with serving as Missouri’s first trip to the Plains and the teams’ SEC opener, Saturday’s meeting between the two former colleagues could be another decisive moment in their respective journeys, as Harsin enters the matchup under mounting pressure following Auburn’s worst home loss in a decade and in need of an SEC-opening win.

“I would categorize every Saturday as a must-win,” Harsin said Monday. “…I mean, that’s why we do what we do, right? I don’t think there’s a game we’ve ever told anybody, ‘Hey, if we lose this one, we’ll be alright. We’ll get on to the next one.’”

Tom Green is an Auburn beat reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @Tomas_Verde.

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