New Appalachian State football coach Eliah Drinkwitz
What made Eliah Drinkwitz attractive as Appalachian State’s new football coach is he was such a great offensive play-caller.
So he was upfront Monday at his introductory news conference in saying he will double-up as head coach and offensive coordinator. I get that; he was terrific as offensive coordinator at N.C. State and any coach wants to maximize the thing he does best.
But there’s a risk in spreading yourself so thin, and we’ll see how all this goes. Becoming a head coach at either the NFL or top college level of football means taking on so many tasks that have nothing to do with the sport itself. It’s being a CEO of a significant business. It’s being an ambassador to thousands of alumni who consider their school’s top sport a touch point. It’s taking responsibility for the academic and social welfare of about 100 young men.
And it’s recruiting, because without that nothing else works. Drinkwitz admitted Wednesday that with about nine commitments so far and national signing day looming, he’ll be so busy finalizing the Mountaineers freshman class that he’ll struggle to find time to Christmas shop for his wife and three daughters.
If this introductory news conference is any indication, Drinkwitz is smart (graduated Magna Cum Laude from Arkansas Tech), humble and sensible. He repeatedly said Monday he appreciates how fortunate he is to come into a program that has been so successful (four consecutive bowl victories, including Saturday’s 45-13 win over Middle Tennessee State in New Orleans).
He has 18 returning starters next season from a team that finished 11-2 and nearly won its opener at Penn State. This isn’t something in need of a fix.
“We’re not coming here to shock the system, but to enhance the culture,” Drinkwitz said.
Then, in response to a question about Mountaineers coach Scott Satterfield moving on to Louisville, Drinkwitz added, “This is not a stepping-stone job. This is a top-25 job.”
Outside of the Power 5 conferences, Appalachian State is one of the better jobs in college football.
It has tradition; Drinkwitz was struck by all the reminders of winning strewn around the football complex. It has improving facilities; the end zone field house is about to be knocked down for new construction. And it has preexisting talent: After watching the bowl game, Drinkwitz had major praise for the offensive line, quarterback Zac Thomas and the running back depth. (The back with the most potential, true freshman Camerun Peoples, showed a glimpse with a long touchdown run.)
Drinkwitz replaces another excellent offensive mind in Satterfield. Much of what Drinkwitz values in offensive scheme already exists.
“I’m not bringing N.C. State’s offense up here,” Drinkwitz said. “Now, I know what the DNA will look like, but it’s going to look different (from the Wolfpack).
“We have a talented quarterback and we’re going to tailor it to him.”
How will that look?
“We are going to dictate tempo to the defense: We’re going to play as fast as anyone in the country when we need to and slow it down to protect our defense when we want to.”
How well this goes — initially, in particular — will rely on Drinkwitz striking a balance between detail and oversight. I’ve covered a lot of coaching changes at the pro and college level and you always hear the same reflection: Assistants are consistently surprised and often their bosses are overwhelmed by all the administrative, marketing and media responsibilities that come with being a head coach.
You can either fight that or make peace with it and delegate. Hiring good assistants would be important regardless of who Appalachian State hired, but all the more so between Drinkwitz’s inexperience as a head coach and his intention to be very hands-on with the offense.
No matter how energetic he is at 35, no matter how much knowledge he brings of play design and game management, there is only so much time in the work day. A coach spreading himself too thin isn’t just a stress on him, but on all those around him.
So I asked him specifically about that Monday.
“I understand that if you’re the head coach and you’re also the offensive coordinator, then you’ve just doubled your responsibility,” Drinkwitz said.
“I know what I’m attacking. I also know that I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for me as an offensive coordinator.”