Vahe Gregorian

Drew Lock’s return is a gift to Mizzou. Now, the Tigers must return the favor

Five reasons why Drew Lock was destined for a record season

Mizzou quarterback Drew Lock, a junior from Lee’s Summit, has thrown a SEC and program record 43 touchdowns this season, which has turned him into a dark horse candidate to go in the first round of the NFL Draft. If he decides to come back to scho
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Mizzou quarterback Drew Lock, a junior from Lee’s Summit, has thrown a SEC and program record 43 touchdowns this season, which has turned him into a dark horse candidate to go in the first round of the NFL Draft. If he decides to come back to scho

No one could have — or should have, anyway — begrudged Drew Lock if he’d decided to leave the University of Missouri to make himself eligible for the NFL Draft.

Not with the gaudy numbers he amassed last season on the way to becoming the first-team All-Southeastern Conference quarterback.

It’s his life, after all.

But you sure could have questioned his wisdom if he had arrived at that decision — especially after being told by the NFL Draft advisory board that he was unlikely to be selected in the first two rounds in what has become a quarterback-rich year, and having it suggested to him he needed more polish in his intermediate passing game.

And you could have figured a premature departure would have been a waste in the short run for all concerned — especially considering the crossroads MU would have found itself facing without him, given that he has no obvious successor.

Instead, his decision makes for a rare gift to the beleaguered Mizzou fan — not to mention coach Barry Odom as he tries to get some traction entering his third season in charge at MU.

Thankfully for them and Lock himself, he was merely being thorough and methodical in weighing options before deciding Monday and announcing Tuesday that he would return for his senior year for many right and reassuring reasons.

“There were a lot of factors that went into this decision,” the Lee’s Summit native said via a statement released by MU. “But the main ones include: a feeling of responsibility and loyalty to my coaches and teammates at Mizzou — we have goals to achieve together; having the chance to play for a new coach in (new offensive coordinator Derek) Dooley, and his system that will continue to add to my development; and of course, getting my degree. 

“I feel like all of these factors combine to give me the best chance to succeed at the next level.”

Of course, there is a little caveat to all this:

It remains to be seen what impact Dooley will have on MU and Lock, who set an SEC record and led the nation with 44 touchdown passes.

Mizzou’s replacement for Josh Heupel, who went on to the head coaching job at Central Florida and left before Mizzou’s Texas Bowl loss to Texas, is a deposed former Tennessee head coach who then coached receivers for the Dallas Cowboys.

Dooley was overmatched at Tennessee, where he was 15-21 overall and 4-19 in SEC play in three seasons, and has never been a quarterbacks coach or coordinator. It’s not immediately certain, at least not publicly, anyway, what system he’ll implement.

Let’s hope that’s all just a footnote in this and not an exasperating defining aspect to a decision that will have Lock on at least some preseason Heisman Trophy watch lists as he joins a group of eight other offensive returnees and seven on defense.

Because logical as his choice seems, there is a leap of faith in the decision, too.

He’s banking on Dooley’s acumen and on MU being able to prove its six-game winning streak last year wasn’t just a fluke feast on the weak part of the schedule and otherwise enhancing his draft profile and … on staying healthy.

Without all of those things coming to pass, Lock could have reason to rue that he made the decision he did.

The flip side of that is … you can’t think that way and you don’t get to see the hindsight until later.

All he could do was make the best decision possible in the moment.

And that’s exactly what he did after talking it through with trusted family and friends and other advisors.

Maybe it would have been nice to hear Lock say it right after the Tigers’ season-ending 33-16 loss to Texas on Dec. 27 in Houston. He offered some hints that it would turn out this way even as he said he hadn’t made up his mind.

The Missouri quarterback discusses the loss to Texas and about being mocked by the opposing coach in Texas Bowl on Dec. 27, 2017.

When he was asked how he’d reconcile the season after the rotten finale, Lock said, “I think being a man, being a grown-up, going about your business, you don’t let this one game tear it all down. We’ve got a lot that we can look forward to, we’ve got a lot that we can take from this game and learn on.”

But you can know the conviction in his announcement now.

Lock made a clear-eyed decision, fully aware of who the new coordinator is and what the stakes are.

And it’s one that has a chance to be a win-win — if MU and Odom and Dooley are as good for and true to Lock as he is to them.

Vahe Gregorian is a sports columnist at The Kansas City Star: 816-234-4868, @vgregorian