It was, Florida Gators coach Billy Napier admitted in July, a relevant question: With a head coach’s workload increasing, should he continue as his team’s offensive play-caller?
The question remains relevant this weekend because Napier’s answer (yes) differs from the one reached by the coach on the opposing sideline (Missouri’s Eliah Drinkwitz). It will remain relevant in the coming weeks, too, as Napier evaluates everything about an underachieving program — including his role in it.
His conclusion will be critical to Florida’s future, because the question encompasses much more than blocking assignments on third and 6. It will shape the makeup of Napier’s staff. It will affect whether he can continue employing a second offensive line coach to fortify that pivotal position group. And it will ultimately determine how the most important person in a program uses his most precious resource: time.
“I don’t think,” Drinkwitz said, “the job of the head football coach is going to get any lighter.”
With that in mind, we asked two current SEC head coaches (and one who has since been deposed) about their choices to relinquish offensive control over the offseason. Their answers and results offer insight into a decision that will make or break the rest of Napier’s tenure.
Best-case scenario: Missouri
Drinkwitz said at SEC media days that his 2022 play-calling didn’t put his offense in the best position to be successful, so he needed to hire coordinator Kirby Moore to handle it.
Four months later, Drinkwitz said that decision has given him more time to do “just about everything else associated with my job.” Strengthening relationships with players and their families. Roster management. Name, image and likeness agents. Recruiting.
His choice has worked out. The No. 11 Tigers are contenders for a prestigious New Year’s Six bowl thanks, in part, to an improved offense. Missouri’s scoring has risen from 24.8 points per game (86th nationally) to 32.8 (31st), while averaging 1.2 more yards per play (from 87th to 19th). The 2024 recruiting class includes No. 2 overall prospect Williams Nwaneri, who’s set to be the program’s second-best signee of the modern era.
Drinkwitz remains involved in the offense, just differently. When the plays come from your mouth, he said, you have to spend the time necessary to be confident in your answers to the opponent’s challenges. He manages those answers now instead of having the personal responsibility to find them. That frees him from the “anxiety level” and gives him more bandwidth to spend on things like special-teams organization.
On Saturdays, Drinkwitz said he has a different perspective on how to dictate a game, like calling a fake punt at Kentucky.
“I don’t think if I was calling plays that play would have gotten approved,” Drinkwitz said.
But it was. The touchdown started a run of 20 consecutive points that turned a 14-0 hole into a 38-21 victory.
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Worst-case scenario: Texas A&M
The dynamic between Jimbo Fisher and his first-year coordinator, Bobby Petrino, was often unclear from the outside. Regardless of whether Petrino called every play, Fisher undeniably delegated more offensive duties to Petrino. That gave Fisher more time last week to prepare for the upcoming transfer portal window.
“Working your roster — people that you think could leave, might leave, hopefully don’t want to leave …” Fisher said last week.
Fisher got even more involved in recruiting future classes and could use extra hours fundraising and schmoozing donors. On game days, he said the shift allowed for more personal conversations with players and the chance to offer more detailed corrections.
“You’re staying just as busy,” Fisher said, “but you don’t always have to worry about the next call.”
None of it mattered, of course. Four days after he answered our questions during the weekly SEC coaches’ teleconference, he was fired. The improvement of the Aggies’ offense (from 22.8 points per game to 34.2) wasn’t enough to prevent Fisher losing four games for the fifth time in six seasons.
To be determined: Auburn
First-year Tigers coach Hugh Freeze was a skilled play-caller in his first stint as SEC head coach (at Mississippi) but knew he’d need help in Round 2; the job had grown too much. Hiring ex-Tulsa coach Philip Montgomery to run the offense has allowed him to work on two other areas.
“Recruit as much as we need to here to get the type of players that we need,” Freeze said. “At the same time, try to really develop the relationships with me and our current roster in an effort to head off some of the new world of them looking elsewhere.”
Though it’s too soon to assess his roster management, Freeze can point to recruiting wins. Auburn has a pair of five-star commitments for the first time since 2019 and flipped top-100 edge rusher Jamonta Waller from Florida on Saturday. The Tigers’ average commitment rating (91.59) is 10th nationally and the program’s best in at least a dozen years, while its top-five 2025 class has four top-250 prospects.
Game days, however, have gone “kind of back to normal” as Freeze has become more involved in the offense after a rough October. His Tigers are 6-4 and on a three-game winning streak. Their scoring average (29.3 points per game) ranks 53rd nationally — one notch below Florida.
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