As hospital president and Mizzou football coach, brothers Jeremy and Eli Drinkwitz rise as leaders

Jeremy and Eli Drinkwitz.
Lauren Tronstad
Columbia Daily Tribune

From being born in Norman, Oklahoma, to working high-level positions in Missouri, two brothers have found their way to the top of their careers by the age of 40.

A mere two years apart, this pair has always been competitive, looking for ways to beat the other. When they both ended up at Arkansas Tech for college, they learned they could be more than just brothers — they could be friends.

They found shared interests, most of which included sports, and genuinely enjoyed spending time with each other. Now as men, loaded with responsibility in their careers, they continue to find ways to spend time together, even if mostly over the phone.

A mutual respect manifested, the two bouncing ideas off each another as they look for new ways to lead their respective teams. The elder brother works as a hospital president. The younger spends his time coaching big-time college football. Both continue to strive to be their best, no matter the situation or location.  

The two boys-turned-men have stepped into the spotlight in their own way.

Their names: Jeremy and Eliah Drinkwitz.

Drinkwitz family roots

Eli Drinkwitz, left, with his brother Jeremy.

From a young age, the idea of working hard was instilled in Jeremy and Eli by family. 

Jeremy attributes most of their drive for success to the way they were raised. Their mother stayed at home as the boys grew up. Their father, who was a teacher, often had at least two jobs to help support the family.

Jeremy recalls that he can't remember a time that his father didn't work multiple jobs to help make ends meet. 

"Hard work is a necessity for success," Jeremy said during a phone interview with the Tribune this past week. "It's not the equation for success — you've got to have opportunities — but you can't be successful without hard work. Both of us believe in that, it's fundamental in our lives. It’s helped us, projected us to where we are right now."

Where the brothers are now is the height of their profession.

Jeremy is the president of Mercy Hospital Joplin, a 240-bed facility with 88 clinic and outpatient locations. Eli is entering his second season as head football coach at Missouri, working to elevate the Tigers' profile within the Southeastern Conference.

More:How every Mizzou football coach in the past 100 years fared in their second season

Jeremy and Eli's competitive nature continued with them into adulthood and fueled their desire for success and to continue to reach higher.

"Whether that competition is against another organization that you may be No. 2 and they are No. 1, or you are No. 1 and you want to make sure you don't ever go down to No. 2," Jeremy said. "I think those are healthy things for leaders because it makes you push past just being good. It makes you push back being satisfied with where you are."

Growing bond

Members of the Drinkwitz family, including Eli, far right, and Jeremy, second from right, gather around the Battle Line Rivalry trophy after Missouri played Arkansas last season.

The two frequently bounce ideas off of one another when it comes to communication and leadership, Jeremy said. He values Eli's opinion and says he views him as an excellent communicator and respects the varying experiences they have had.

He described trying to learn new tactics when it comes to working as a team and leading people to success, whether that is in a hospital or on a football field.

Their relationship now has built upon what is was growing up.

"I wouldn’t say we were really close and I wouldn’t say we didn’t like each other," Jeremy said of the two as children. "I would say that we had a pretty normal brother relationship when you’re two years apart.

"He thinks he can take me and I make sure that he knew that he couldn’t."

Their close bond wasn't formed until college. Jeremy had two years at Arkansas Tech before Eli made the decision to start college there as well. Jeremy quickly realized that in a lot of respects, he would rather spend time with his brother than other friends.

It's a bond the two "hold onto closely."

"He's somebody I know always has my confidence, and I always have his confidence," Jeremy said. "He's somebody you can be vulnerable with and somebody you can be open and authentic with. Those things are just rare in life, and to have that as your brother is something really special."

Jeremy said Eli often hears extensive detail about his days in health care dealing with COVID-19 because "he's genuinely concerned with how things are going and how we're doing because it's me doing this profession."

Since his senior year in high school, Jeremy knew that he wanted to work in health care. The inspiration came from a family friend who held a similar position. When he was younger, he mowed lawns as a way of earning extra cash, slowly instilling in him an appreciation for business. His desire to help people, coupled with the business aspect, made his 15-year career, which eventually led him to Joplin in 2019, the perfect fit.

"I never thought that I would battle a pandemic in my career," Jeremy said. "But here we are in the middle of one." 

Prior to his position in Joplin, Jeremy's career in health care administration took him from his home state of Oklahoma to Florida to Mississippi and back to Arkansas before landing his current position.

Eli has had a similar path, with his coaching career moving him from state to state. He has held various coaching positions, from working in high schools to well-known colleges such as Auburn and North Carolina State. Before making his way to Columbia, he was head coach at Appalachian State in North Carolina.

More:Eli Drinkwitz 'excited about the choice' of Reed-Francois as new Mizzou athletic director

Using their platforms

Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz speaks to reporters after the first day of fall camp Aug. 6 at the Kadlec Practice Fields.

Even with the constant spotlight on Eli as he leads Missouri football, he has used the platform, perhaps as much or more than any other coach in college football, to promote COVID-19 vaccinations.

"When you're in a position of leadership, you've been given an awesome platform and you've got to weigh the outcomes of what you endorse," Eli said at SEC Media Days in July. "And so for me, when I think about vaccinations, I think about what if I'm wrong? So if I say, 'It's up to each individual decision,' and I'm wrong about that, the consequences of not getting the COVID vaccine are death."

Back in July, Eli explained that his decision to publicly endorse the vaccine was a personal one as his brother leads in the "firefight" against the pandemic.

Eli compared vaccinations to having players tape their ankles to help prevent spraining them and losing out on game time.

More:When and where to receive your COVID-19 vaccine this week in Columbia

"I don't really get any pushback on taping ankles," Eli said, laughing. Just like taping ankles doesn't guarantee you won't sprain your ankle, he said, the vaccine doesn't guarantee you won't get COVID-19, but it significantly lessens risks.

"It's become a political football," he said. "I don't think it needs to be that."

When asked about how he feels about his brother using his platform to promote vaccinations within his team and community, Jeremy expressed nothing but pride. 

"I am incredibly proud for him to use his voice," Jeremy said. "As a leader, it's always challenging whether to use your voice or not because you are always going to have criticism and encouragement on both sides of that decision. For him to use his voice and to speak up and be more vocal than most other people in that profession right now, I am really proud of that."

Across the state, Joplin at times has been a hot spot for COVID-19, putting extra strain on Jeremy as hospital president. However, he continues to use his faith in hopes of inspiring change through his social media channels.

"We love our family and those close to us, but we rarely think about our neighbors," Jeremy said. "We are called to do that. The things we do for ourselves are the same that we should be doing for people that we interact with. I believe we should be giving people a lot more grace. We could get a lot more done with our communities that way." 

Jeremy uses the Biblical phrase "love thy neighbor" in his tweets as a hashtag as a way to push for his followers to consider vaccines — not just for their own health, but for the health of those around them.

With Missouri football closing in on the first kickoff of the season against Central Michigan next Saturday, and with the Delta variant causing a surge in COVID-19 cases and a strain on hospitals, there is plenty occupying the Drinkwitzes these days.

The relationship between the brothers has continued to flourish, even in the public eye as they fight their own battles in hospitals and at Faurot Field.