Missouri head coach Eliah Drinkwitz says he hasn’t put much consideration into whether the 2020 college football season will unfold as planned.
Mass delays and cancellations have brought athletics to a standstill over the past month amid the coronavirus pandemic, with all major sports in America put on hold and the Tokyo Olympics originally set for this summer pushed back one year.
The stoppage wiped out a majority of the spring sports season at Missouri and across the Southeastern Conference, halting all activities for a period of time that MU athletic director Jim Sterk expects to last the remainder of the academic year. Gone are the Tigers’ spring football practices and annual spring game.
Yet Drinkwitz is not focused on the what-ifs.
The Tigers are pressing onward to prepare for their season opener against Central Arkansas scheduled for Sept. 5 at Faurot Field — albeit in ways no one expected.
“I'm going to use today’s strength on today's problems. I'm not going to use today's strength on tomorrow's problems,” Drinkwitz said Wednesday during a Zoom conference call with reporters. “We're all so concerned with forecasting the future instead of just focusing on today. Today's April 1, and I don't know about you all, but Sept. 5 seems a long way away. President (Donald) Trump has extended social guidelines until April 30, and that's a long time for me to be in with my family.”
Those parameters may change, but Drinkwitz said he will deal with those circumstances when they’re right in front of him.
“For me to forecast anything in the future, I think it’s a lot of wasted energy and effort, in my opinion,” Drinkwitz said. “I think what it does is it gets people concerned about things that aren’t relevant for right now. What's relevant for right now for us is to be taking care of our families, to maintain proper social distancing, and to adhere to the rules and standards that our administration, our president and our governor have put in place. That's my focus.”
Drinkwitz responded to a recent statement by ESPN commentator Kirk Herbstreit, who said he would be “shocked” if the college football season happens this fall.
“No offense to Mr. Herbstreit,” Drinkwitz said, “but deciding who's going to win a football game on College GameDay is a lot different than getting the world in a panic about whether or not we're going to play a college football season.
“And I'm not going to get into that.”
Drinkwitz said there is no hard deadline in his mind for when practices need to resume to get a full season in. Missouri held only three spring practices before the rash of cancellations.
In that five-day period of March 7-11, Drinkwitz said he didn’t identify any true strengths or weaknesses for the Tigers. Just like every other SEC team whose spring plans have been impacted, he knows Missouri has to get better.
“If we reported on Aug. 5 and it’s said we were playing on Sept. 5, we would be ready to go,” Drinkwitz said. “That's just what you do. As long as it's even, and the playing field is even for everybody, I think you're in good shape.”
While practicing social distancing, Drinkwitz has tried to stay in constant contact with staff, current players and recruits within the new guidelines. This week, the SEC said it would allow two hours per week for teams to break down film or anything that can be done through the internet while they’re not allowed to meet in-person.
Drinkwitz is one of four new SEC head coaches this year, along with Mississippi State’s Mike Leach, Mississippi’s Lane Kiffin and Arkansas’ Sam Pittman.
“I think that puts us behind the eight ball and I think anytime you're trying to instill your culture and what you're trying to do and build that trust and respect, you can only really do that through time and time spent together,” Drinkwitz said. “So it's not ideal. It's definitely not ideal.
“The one thing that I say kind of evens the playing field is that college football is constantly in a state of flux with coaching transitions, other than a couple of schools on our side of the division. Whether or not they had a head coaching change, most schools had coordinator changes, position coach changes, and so those guys are kind of in the same situation we are.”
Drinkwitz has kept as much of his normal daily routine as possible with the changes the coronavirus has brought about.
He said he still wakes up at 5:43 a.m., works out, helps his wife feed his daughters breakfast and then starts to recruit, though the NCAA announced Wednesday a continued dead period for in-person recruiting through May 31.
There remains a Missouri coaches meeting at 9 a.m., and on Wednesday, the staff broke down film of Central Arkansas until noon.
There is still plenty of work to get done, though real life weighs heavily.
Drinkwitz said he has family involved in health care in a few different regards and knows people who have been diagnosed with COVID-19.
“We're in this fight and we're just trying to provide encouragement and prayers and support in any way that we can and check on people and make sure they know that we're proud of them and we're proud of the fight that they're putting up and we're doing our part,” Drinkwitz said. “That's our job as coaches to make sure they know that they're going to be able to get through it, they're going to fight through it.
“... Encouragement is giving somebody your courage to fight and get through what they're going through, and that's our job, to check on them, make sure they're not alone. I think the toughest part of what goes on with COVID-19 is the isolation, the quarantine, being by yourself and seeing those walls close in on you, and you’re not sure if there's anybody else out there fighting with you.
“So just let them know we're fighting with you, we're there in the battle with you and whatever we do, whether it's spiritual health, praying, or whether it's mental health, we're there for them.”