BOONE, N.C. — For a young coach, who attracted attention at college football powerhouses like Boise State, Auburn and North Carolina State with his prowess for play-calling, it was important for Eliah Drinkwitz to get things just right when he was introduced Monday morning as Appalachian State’s new head coach.
Before a crowded conference room that included media members, school personnel, dignitaries and many of the Mountaineers’ ever-rabid supporters, there was no need for an audible. Drinkwitz used his personable demeanor to make a strong first impression.
Quickly understanding how much talent that six-year head coach Scott Satterfield has left behind after he watched Appalachian dismantle Middle Tennessee State 45-13 in person on Saturday night and getting a feel for the deep-rooted traditions of Mountaineer football, Drinkwitz eased any apprehensions during this late morning appearance.
“We’re not coming here to shock the system, but to enhance the culture,” Drinkwitz said. “This is not a stepping-stone job. This is a top-25 job.”
ASU athletic director Doug Gillin made it clear that he was looking for a replacement to the offensive-minded Satterfield that would construct an attack that would be similar to what has made App State so successful in the past two decades and one who understands the significant culture of this special football program.
“It was early on when we connected on our core values. Those are the things that we were not going to waver on,” Gillin said. “Academic integrity first and foremost. We’re here to graduate students. We want to make sure we can recruit students who can compete academically, first and foremost on the field of play, but also in the classroom and for life after football.”
Gillin was confident he has met that goal with this 35-year-old whiz kid, who has quickly moved through the college coaching ranks.
“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).”
Building on QB Skill
The new coach, known for his development of quarterbacks, will build around the skill of one of the nation’s best young signal-callers, soon-to-be-junior Zac Thomas — the MVP of the New Orleans Bowl after a performance that included throwing two touchdown passes, running for another and even catching a TD toss from receiver Malik Williams.
“We have a talented quarterback and we’re going to tailor it to him,” Drinkwitz explained. “We’re not here to try to say our way’s best,” Drinkwitz said. “We’re about winning. We’re about low ego, high output. We’re about winning championships.”
The tweaks that Drinkwitz takes to the winning Appalachian system could make Appalachian even more dangerous next year, with 18 starters returning from an 11-2 squad that won its first outright Sun Belt title, captured an NCAA-record fourth consecutive bowl game for a new Football Championship Subdivision program and pushed iconic Penn State to overtime in the season opener.
“We’re going to play as fast as anybody in the country when we need to, but we’re going to protect our defense as much as we need to in order to play complementary football,” Drinkwitz said. “We’re going to have a dominant downhill run game. You have to be able to run the football in order to win championships, and you have to be able to run the ball in the red zone and in a four-minute offense. We will do that.”
Building on Formula
It is a formula that Appalachian fans have come to appreciate.
“We’re going to win in the trenches,” Drinkwitz said. “It’s no different than what App State’s done here in the past, but also I’d like to enhance that and make it better.”
One of the ways that Drinkwitz hopes to do that is as his own offensive coordinator — a role that has befuddled other head coaches, but one that this first-time head man is eager to take on as a challenge.
“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.”
An easier challenge will be embracing the unique atmosphere that envelops Mountaineer football, something Drinkwitz got his first taste of at the New Orleans Bowl and explored deeper as he toured the facilities around Kidd Brewer Stadium, the Sofield Indoor Practice Facility and the Ricks Athletic Complex before Monday’s press conference.
“I was watching the App family go crazy in the stands, it made it feel like to me the culture is contagious,” Drinkwitz said. “And so I’m excited to catch on to that culture and latch on that.”
If first impressions are any indication, this new coach will be an excellent fit.
“I am so excited to embrace the past traditions, history and success that this program has,” Drinkwitz added. “Everywhere you turn there’s a championship on the wall, and I look forward to connecting with the past champions, connecting with the players that were here that helped build this place and also to bring our own championships and continue that tradition of winning.”
David Coulson is an executive editor for the College Sports Journal, and has covered college football for over 40 years. Present in the press box during the legendary Appalachian State upset of Michigan, his extensive coverage of Appalachian State allowed him to write about the Mountaineers’ first-ever Division I title in the book
Magic on the Mountain: Appalachian State’s Amazing Journey to the 2005 NCAA I-AA Football Championship.
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