The chirping birds and white noise of the spring wind were a tell. Eli Drinkwitz was out for a walk during a phone call, enjoying the locale he has called home for well over a year but has not gotten nearly enough time to truly settle into.

Who can blame him? He was hired as Missouri’s head coach in December 2019, two days after completing his first regular season as a head coach at Appalachian State with a Sun Belt championship. Three practices into his first spring with the Tigers, the pandemic sent everyone home, relegating the football introduction of this regime to Zoom.

Drinkwitz made his SEC debut against an Alabama team that ran the table in a historic run to the national title. Two weeks later, his Tigers upset LSU, the previous year’s national champions.

“It’s definitely a challenge,” Drinkwitz said of the SEC, laughing. “Just because every team’s got great players and every team’s got great coaches and every team’s got good lines of scrimmage and usually each team has one or two players that are NFL first- or second-round players. And you’ve got to figure out how you’re going to adjust your schemes each week to make it happen.”

There were two blowout losses to start the year, and two blowout losses to end the year, by a combined four-game total of 96 points. In between, there was a 5-1 run that everyone in Columbia hopes sets the table for a roster that’s long on experience and, thanks to a top-30 recruiting class, potential. Oh, and the bowl game was canceled due to a COVID-19 outbreak within the program, too.

So you could say that it’s been a bit of a whirlwind for the 38-year-old Drinkwitz. Heck, even his own mother had trouble getting a hold of him at times, having dialed her son’s Boise State cell number — from five years and four jobs ago, for the record — repeatedly with no answer, before her daughter finally got her up to date.

Drinkwitz loves the area now that he’s getting a chance to enjoy it. He takes his family to Kansas City and St. Louis. He takes advantage of all the trails that Columbia offers to walkers and bikers alike. He enjoys getting a chance to positively impact a community of more than 100,000, given his position.

And now, after finally coaching a spring season and putting an SEC team through an entire offseason program, he has a chance to really see what his program is about.