COLUMBIA, Mo. – Eliah Drinkwitz is bringing some close confidants with him to lead Missouri football.
The new Tigers head coach announced the hiring of associate head coach Charlie Harbison and special teams coordinator Erik Link on Thursday after each operated in similar roles under Drinkwitz during a dominant season at Appalachian State this year. On Friday, Drinkwitz added D.J. Smith from his staff with the Mountaineers.
Harbison and Smith will serve as defensive assistant coaches, with their exact roles yet to be announced.
“Charlie brings a wealth of experience with him to the defensive side of the football, having coached at the highest levels,” Drinkwitz said in a news release. ”... He’s an outstanding man of character who knows what it means to mentor players both in football and in life.”
Harbison’s coaching career in college football includes time at Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, LSU and Mississippi State.
He spent the 2018 season on NFL sidelines as defensive backs coach for the Arizona Cardinals before joining Drinkwitz’s staff at Appalachian State. At Arizona, Harbison coached Pro Bowler Patrick Peterson as the Cardinals finished as the league’s fourth-best pass defense.
“I’m very excited to continue working with coach Drink and grateful for the opportunity to join the Mizzou family,” Harbison said. “He is a great coach to work for, he’s outstanding with the x’s and o’s, and he’s even better with the staff and the athletes on a personal level. He has this air about him that makes people want to play for him and coach for him.”
Drinkwitz also made one thing clear Tuesday during his introductory news conference: Special teams will be “the heartbeat” of his program.
“The best players play on special teams,” Drinkwitz said. “That’s my commitment to it.”
Link’s Appalachian State special teams blocked a nation-best seven kicks this season while ranking in the top 30 in punt return coverage, kickoff returns and kickoff return coverage as the No. 20 Mountaineers went 12-1 and won the Sun Belt Conference.
“Erik is a man of high character with a background in teaching and coaching,” Drinkwitz said of Link. “His special teams units are detailed and very sound, and his guys play hard. They focus on effort, execution and high energy.”
Link and Drinkwitz were both quality control assistants at Auburn when it won a national championship in 2010.
Link was special teams coordinator for Louisiana Tech in 2018.
“I couldn’t be more excited to join the Mizzou family,” Link said. “I am humbled at the opportunity to work with the outstanding student-athletes, coaches and staff at the University of Missouri. My family and I are grateful to coach Drinkwitz and look forward to working every day to attack success and to embracing the Columbia community.”
Smith served as outside linebackers coach under Drinkwitz at Appalachian State. The Mountaineers ranked in the top 30 nationally in numerous major statistical categories, including third down defense (14th), pass efficiency defense (18th), interceptions (19th), scoring defense (22nd) and total defense (26th).
“D.J. is a man of character who has played football at the highest level,” Drinkwitz said in a press release. “He’s a great teacher and organizer, and he impressed me with how he presents his ideas in a clear and concise way. That gives him an ability to relate to the players both on a personal level, as well as the football aspect.”
Two of Smith’s players received 2019 all-conference recognition, including Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year and first-team All-Sun Belt honoree Akeem Davis-Gaither. Additionally, Noel Cook was voted to All-Sun Belt honorable mention team.
“I’m blessed and honored to have the opportunity to come work with Coach Drink,” Smith said in the release. “Having worked with him the past year, I learned a lot from him on how to be a better coach, a better man and a better father. I’m excited to come to Mizzou and to work hard to build something special with the team and for our fans. I can’t wait to get started.”
Andy Hill, the longest-tenured Missouri assistant coach at 24 years, served as the program’s first-ever special teams coordinator under Barry Odom the past two seasons. Hill had been an associate head coach each of the past four seasons.
Hill, along with running backs coach Cornell Ford and tight ends coach A.J. Ofodile, will not be retained on Drinkwitz’s staff, PowerMizzou.com reported.
Offensive line coach Brad Davis has been hired in the same capacity at Arkansas.