Pressure, late rock philosophers David Bowie and Freddie Mercury teach us every time their iconic song plays, pushes down on you.
Few understand the weight better than sports figures.
The many perks of their positions come with the terror of knowing what their world is about.
Our annual check of the Post-Dispatch pressure index shows these St. Louis sports figures entered 2023 in the spotlight ...
Eli Drinkwitz: Entering year four, the Missouri football coach has a 17-19 record and is still chasing his first winning season along with a bowl-game victory. His recent raise and extension boosted expectations along with his bank account. Hired at their current jobs entering the same 2020 season, Lane Kiffin (23-13 at Ole Miss), Sam Pittman (19-17 at Arkansas) and the late Mike Leach (19-17 at Mississippi State) carved out better records than Drinkwitz to start their tenures. SEC East opponent South Carolina won eight games under second-year coach Shane Beamer this season. Tennessee won 11 games with second-year coach Josh Heupel, a former Tigers offensive coordinator. Drinkwitz’s fourth season needs to be bigger and better, or the fan support shown through improved ticket sales and game-day attendance could begin to decrease and decline. The recent hiring of Fresno State offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Kirby Moore needs to be a difference maker for an offense has stalled under Drinkwitz.
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Jack Flaherty: After a stellar 2019 season (2.75 ERA, 33 starts, 196.1 innings, 231 strikeouts) suggested the Cardinals right-hander was emerging as one of the best young starters in baseball, injuries quickly clouded the picture. Flaherty, now 27, has not made more than 15 starts (2021) or pitched more than 78.1 innings (2021) in any major league season since. This season will be his last to leverage the Cardinals for an extension and/or maximize his market before free agency. Previous clashes between Flaherty and the Cardinals, whether it was about the way baseball pays young players or the information the team shared about his shoulder, don’t matter much now. The Cardinals rotation is in big trouble if Flaherty doesn’t deliver, and Flaherty needs to prove to whatever team pays him next that he is durable enough to bet on for seasons to come.
Travis Ford: What was supposed to be a special season for the Billikens men’s basketball team appears to be veering off the rails. The Billikens are 9-6 overall, with four of those losses coming in their last six games. This is Ford’s seventh season manning the Chaifetz Arena sideline. His roster was loaded with experience and talent. While it’s unfortunate Javonte Perkins’ knee is not responding like anyone hoped following his return from surgery, that alone is not a blamable reason for SLU’s struggles. The team is underperforming. A wide-open Atlantic-10 will offer its conference tournament champion a chance to dance, and a Ford-coached SLU team has claimed that spot before, but if a rally does not come in time to secure a shot at March Madness, SLU will need to decide if its goal of being a basketball destination can become a reality with a coach who is 0-1 in the NCAA Tournament after season seven.
Roman Burki: Cardinals catcher Willson Contreras isn’t the only new player in town settling into the prominence that comes with being a St. Louis backstop. Like Blues goalie and Cardinals catcher, City SC goalkeeper is a big role. It belongs Burki. Contreras has big shoes to fill in replacing Yadier Molina. Burki has a big contract to justify. He’s the highest-paid player on the team, and the highest-paid goalie in MLS. His performance following a switch from German Bundesliga play will be as crucial as any player’s to the trajectory of the expansion team’s launch.
Doug Armstrong: Trust in Army? Sometimes the phrase has ended in a declarative period. After the Blues won their first ever Stanley Cup, the proper punctuation point was an emphatic exclamation mark. Now Armstrong has to prove it all over again, as is the nature of his business. Armstrong is under contract through 2025-26, but his team is in transition. His challenge, if the Blues press fast forward on a retooling, and that appears to be the best option available now, will be to maximize returns for expiring contracts like Ryan O’Reilly and Vladimir Tarasenko, pick the right current players to build around and make sure a new-look team can compete at a high level soon. Armstrong’s contract bets on Jordan Kyrou and Robert Thomas were the beginning of a shift toward the future. The right follow-up moves are needed to stop the second-guessing about players he let walk before this season shot sparks.
Bill DeWitt Jr: How much pressure can the Cardinals chairman really be under? He’s the boss, after all. Fair question. But when loyal Cardinals fans hear from the president of baseball operations multiple times that the payroll is going to go up; and the only impact addition this offseason has come at a position of absolute need; and the National League’s heaviest hitters are doing whatever it takes to stockpile talent; and the Cardinals have been knocked out of three consecutive wild-card settings without a single win in a National League Championship Series since 2014; and ... well, you get the point. Fans are desperate for another meaningful postseason run, and it’s not just the social media rabble rousers who would like to see more signs of impatience from the tip-top of the team.