Drinkwitz’s Sort of Secret Weapon vs Arkansas Describes Inner Workings

Eli Drinkwitz, Rick Jones, Arkansas football, Missouri football
photo credit: ESPN / Missouri Athletics / Instagram/Rick Jones

Missouri football staffer Rick Jones feels like the Tigers have a few advantages over the Arkansas football program when it comes to recruiting high school talent.

One big one: the state is home to two much bigger metropolitan areas than anything Arkansas has. The populations of Kansas City and St. Louis dwarf those of northwest Arkansas and Little Rock, respectively, and produce many more blue-chip prospects. While a lot of said prospects do end up playing in other states, those like East St. Louis’ Luther Burden III who decide to play with the Tigers can sometimes become major difference makers.

The flip side of this advantage is that a program like Missouri football, even when it’s rolling as it is now, can’t summon the same level of statewide support as the comparatively struggling Razorbacks do in Arkansas.

While the Tigers have to compete for fan and media attention with pro teams like the Chiefs, Cardinals and Royals, the Razorbacks have Arkansas pretty much all to themselves outside of a Red Wolf flare-up here and there. On top of that, the Razorbacks are historically a more successful program and so theoretically have more prestige.

Not that the latter benefits have translated to much success for the Hogs against Missouri football on the gridiron, with 7 of the last 8 meetings going the Tigers’ way. On top of that, Eli Drinkwitz, Jones and the rest of the Missouri staff have been cleaning up on the recruiting trail lately by nabbing three Arkansas natives in the class of 2024 cycle alone. This Tigers’ incursion is one reason the Razorbacks are signing a likely all-time low percentage of Power 5 caliber talent from within their state.

Razorback fans don’t need to be reminded of Pine Bluff star Courtney Crutchfield’s defection from Arkansas to Missouri last December. After Crutchfield’s annoucement, Drinkwitz took a direct stab at Arkansas football coach Sam Pittman by posting a celebration GIF extracted from the low point of Arkansas’ season-ending embarrassment:

“Coach Drinkwitz, he loves to poke the bear,” Jones said on the most recent “Coaches & The Mouth” podcast. “He loves the poke the bear. And to be honest, for coach and myself, we love [the success vs Arkansas]. We’ve had some great battles with Arkansas.”

Drinkwitz, an Alma native, has built a staff filled with Arkansans and guys with Razorback ties to become a major thorn in Arkansas’ side in the last few seasons. Although Arkansas gets repeatedly beaten by Missouri, it seems like Missouri and their fans still care more about this “rivalry” game more than the Arkansas side does, as ESPN Arkansas’ Tye Richardson points out here:

In all this, Drinkwitz’s biggest “X” factor weapon might just be Rick Jones, a coaching legend at the Arkansas high school football ranks whose connections and analysis are reaping major dividends.

Missouri Football’s “X” Factor vs Arkansas, Others

Rick Jones is an Oklahoma native, but has plenty of Arkansans in his family, with his grandmother, mom and uncle all born around Fort Smith.

Jones cemented a widespread reputation as one of the game’s brightest minds in charge at Greenwood High, where in 16 seasons he racked up eight state championships, three runner-up finishes and coached the likes of Tyler Wilson, Drew Morgan, Grant Morgan and Connor Noland.

After leaving Greenwood in early 2020, he joined Drinkwitz’s staff as his special assistant in the Missouri football program and often works remotely from his Springfield, Mo., home. One of his major responsibilities is high school relations, helping run clinics and also sending out a “Tiger Notes” e-mail newsletter to high school coaches in-season and to volunteer coaches off-season. It’s free football knowledge he makes available to those who hit him up at rick.jones@missouri.edu, and can’t help but build and maintain bridges that may also help in recruiting one day.

In season, Jones also provides Drinkwitz a one-to-one and a half-page report every Sunday evening.

“It’s sort of a non X and O scouting report,” he told “The Coaches & The Mouth” podcast. “It has to do with recruiting, the [upcoming opposing] coach’s background. Normally, I’ll know the head coach on the opposing team or I will know somebody that knows him and I will do some studies about how he is analytically, how aggressive is he going to be on third and fourth down, things like that.”

Jones added that he draws from at least three databases, including Pro Football Focus, Championship Analytics, Inc. and Sports Analysis, Inc. “We have every high school game, essentially, that’s been played the last five years, every college game for the last seven, every NFL game from the last seven years.”

For three seasons, Jones has also been Drinkwitz’s right-hand man when it comes to advanced statistics. Every Monday, he gets a book up to two inches thick from CAI and will use that to create his own customized book for the upcoming opponent. That helps him give insight for Drinkwitz on game days.

“I make my book and I’m there on the sideline to try to help him make those decisions on whether you spike it or take a timeout or whether you go for one or go for two, or whether you go for it on fourth down and things like that,” Jones said.

Last year, Missouri’s investment in all this analysis appears to have paid off. The Tigers finished 11-2 and beat Ohio State in the Cotton Bowl.

Rick Jones Becoming Drinkwitz’s Wilson Matthews?

Decades ago, Rick Jones spent three seasons as an assistant at Missouri State under Razorback legend Jesse Branch.

Branch had been an associate AD at the University of Arkansas who’d also coached the Razorbacks as an assistant under Frank Broyles, Lou Holtz and Ken Hatfield.

Indeed, Branch had played under Broyles in 1961 and 1962 and would have known one of Broyles’ keys to success in winning recruiting wars in Arkansas and also winning so many games – Wilson Matthews.

Matthews had won 10 state titles in 11 years as a coach at Little Rock Central High, including a 1957 team that was declared the national champion. Matthews then left to join the staff of Broyles, who had just arrived in Fayetteville after coaching the Missouri football program for a season.

He started as a defensive assistant and later took over more administrative roles, but throughout all of it Matthews was instrumental to Broyles’ ability to recruit in-state with all the ties he had made as a high school coach. He also thought outside the box to help the Arkansas football program in other ways, similar to the role Rick Jones is playing for Drinkwitz now.

“He was instrumental in helping elevate fan support around the state from a healthy enthusiasm to an unbridled passion for the Razorbacks.” Broyles said of Matthews. “I never made a decision regarding the future of our program without asking Wilson for his input.

Sam Pittman doesn’t have an equivalent on his current 2024 staff. But he does have offensive coordinator Bobby Petrino, upon whom he’ll most certainly lean for in-game consulting on the offensive side of the ball. Indeed, it would be a mild surprise if Petrino doesn’t take full control of the offense at some point.

Since Petrino brings the same vast head coaching experience to the fore that Jones does, except on a collegiate instead of a high school level, it’s unknown to what extent the former Razorback head coach will also give his advice on special teams and even on defensive strategy.

In a hyper-competitive SEC in which every program is looking for whatever advantage it can gain, perhaps letting Petrino chime in on other aspects of the game will give Arkansas its best shot at a winning X-factor it so desperately needs.

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Rick Jones talk about more about the Razorbacks at 1:16:00 below. Around 1:20:00 he gets into the recruiting advantages he feels Missouri has over Arkansas:

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