Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz shows off his personality at SEC Media Days

Eric Blum
Columbia Daily Tribune

HOOVER, Ala. — As Missouri head football coach Eli Drinkwitz walked onto the SEC Media Days main stage Thursday for the first time, he waited 10 seconds to start showing off his lighthearted nature.

With recent speculation surfacing that Big 12 stalwarts Oklahoma and Texas could rekindle rivalries with the Tigers in the SEC, Drinkwitz said he asked SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey if the "Horns Down" gesture would result in a 15-yard penalty.

Drinkwitz said Sankey had a strong rebuttal: "No comment."

"Horns Up," more commonly known as "Hook 'Em Horns," is the primary hand motion signaling support of Texas athletics. The Longhorns' current conference said opponents using the opposite motion would be assessed a penalty this upcoming season.

Just before that, Drinkwitz congratulated SEC Network host Paul Finebaum on his contract extension with the network.

"Nobody steals a show quite like Paul and starts out SEC Media Days by leaking that news. So congrats to Paul on that," Drinkwitz said.

Thursday was Drinkwitz's first SEC Media Days, more than 19 months after his hiring. Half the league's head coaches had never participated in the event before.

Mississippi head coach Lane Kiffin was the exception to that rule among the eight head coaching changes since the last SEC Media Days in 2019, previously standing at the lectern as the head coach at Tennessee.

Did Drinkwitz see it as a responsibility to show more of his personality with more cameras and eyes on him than usual? Or was Thursday's performance part of his usual song-and-dance combination of sincerity and quirkiness?

Either way, he clearly had a plan during his entrance and couldn't wrap up his opening statement without poking fun at the media members in the room.

"You begin to appreciate the tough sportswriters who last to Day No. 4," Drinkwitz said. "You can see empty seats here. Some guys aren't cut out for life on the road and don't have their pandemic legs underneath them."

The lighter side of Drinkwitz appeared at his first media scrum of the day, too, about an hour earlier during his first in-person meeting with local reporters in over 16 months. 

Even after his minutes-long answer about the importance of COVID-19 vaccinations and how he is encouraging his players to get their shots, the 38-year-old Drinkwitz poked fun at those who don't believe basic science.

"I read all of this conspiracy theory that this might be some sort of government ploy, but they're posting it on social media," Drinkwitz said. "They might need to be more worried about whether or not they're being tracked on social media instead of getting tracked by a vaccine."

Do Drinkwitz's players know when he's being serious and when he's joking around? They can tell, most of the time, said offensive lineman Case Cook.

"Sometimes you can't really tell if he's being sarcastic. So you try to joke and then it may not be a joke. And then you're like, 'I got myself into a little hole here,'" Cook said. "When it's time to work and it's game day, practice day, something like that, a meeting, you can definitely tell when he switches into business mode."

Drinkwitz's handle on the public relations element of his job is one he take seriously, even if some of the things out of his mouth aren't.

Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz is introduced Thursday as he enters the main media room in the Hyatt Regency during SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala.

Drinkwitz has been all over the state of Missouri recently. He has popped up at Cardinals and Royals games. He's watched a bit of soccer with Sporting Kansas City and auto racing at the Randolph County Raceway.

"Anytime we get a chance to promote our brand and push Mizzou football, that's my job, and they pay me a whole hell of a lot of money to do my job," Drinkwitz said. "So I embrace it with everything I have."

In the summer of 2006, Drinkwitz was a high school football coach in Springdale, Arkansas, visiting Hoover for a high school 7-on-7 football tournament. Between sessions, Drinkwitz and his colleagues drove up to the area around the hotel and saw firsthand the festivities of SEC Media Days. After 15 years, he was back — this time inside the ballrooms of The Wynfrey Hotel as head coach of an SEC program.

"I'm living the dream," Drinkwitz said. "... You don't take that for granted. You don't know what opportunities are going to come and go in life, and every day is a gift."

Then Drinkwitz couldn't help but compliment a reporter's salmon pastel dress pants. 

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

Follow Mizzou football with the Tribune’s Tiger Extra newsletter. For more of the Tribune's preseason coverage, purchase a digital subscription.