By Joe Vozzelli
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel cleared up any doubt about his future as the leader of the football program, despite rumors to the contrary
After a disappointing inaugural Southeastern Conference season, in which Missouri finished 5-7 and missed out on a bowl for the first time since 2004, rumors surfaced on the social media site Twitter that Pinkel would announce his retirement yesterday.
He didn’t make any such announcement yesterday or when he met with reporters today at the Mizzou Athletics Training Complex in Columbia. He opened up the press conference without any mention of his future. He only talked about his future when someone asked him about it.
When asked if he had any “indecision” about returning as Missouri’s head coach next season, Pinkel had a one-word answer.
“No,” he said.
Pinkel said he isn’t sure where the rumors started, saying that he received a call from his daughter, who told him “I hear you’re retiring.”
Pinkel told his daughter: “I am? No, that’s not me.”
“I love what I do. I couldn’t wait to get to work on Monday,” Pinkel said.
Pinkel grew slightly defensive about his job security at Missouri and touted the program’s success. He mentioned his team has the 13th most wins in the nation among BCS automatic qualifying conferences from 2007 through 2012 and had gone to seven straight bowl games.
“The rankings are facts,” he said. “We’re not talking about we were ranked 45th in the nation in winning. I’m proud of (being ranked 13th). I’m very disappointed about this season but I’m proud about the consistency of our program.”
He also talked about his good relationship with Missouri athletics director Mike Alden, but did say that Alden’s job is to “make sure we win.”
“He’s always supported me,” Pinkel said. “When we had three losing seasons in five years, he supported me. I’ve always appreciated that.”
There have also been a number of rumors about Pinkel’s coaching staff and whether or not he would make changes.
Pinkel quelled those rumors, saying he won’t change any coaches on his staff, and expects them to remain in their same positions.
“I see a lot of coaches around the country that have tough years and start firing guys,” he said. “So, one year there a good coach and the next year they’re not.”
Pinkel has been asked repeatedly throughout the season if he’ll consider making changes to the offensive style of play to adapt to the SEC. He reiterated what he’s always said in response to those questions: “what we do works.”
He said Missouri will recruit in the same areas of the country and keep its spread offense in tact, which are two things fans have asked to be changed.
Missouri’s coach was adamant that the team didn’t face as steep of a learning curve in its switch from the Big 12 to the SEC as most people, namely fans and media, expected it would.
He did notice that the SEC “is a line of scrimmage league,” meaning the best teams have good offensive and defensive lines.
A key part of Missouri’s defensive front may be departing after the season, though. Defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson could declare for the NFL draft and most draft experts have projected him as a first round pick.
Pinkel said he’d likely talk to Richardson this week about his draft prospects.
“If I was a betting man, I would suggest he’s going to go (to the NFL),” he said of Richardson.
Aside from questions about Pinkel’s future, most of the press conference was devoted to how injuries impacted this year’s team and the high expectations at the Missouri football program.
Pinkel has made it clear the past few weeks that injuries have hurt this team. At media day on Nov. 19, he blamed injuries for his team’s embarrassing inaugural season in the SEC.
“This season has been frustrating, just for me personally, from the injury standpoint,” Pinkel said on Nov. 19.
He even said the 2007 football team that won 12 games would have only won seven or eight games if it experienced the same injury problems as the current team.
That hasn’t always been his stance.
After Missouri’s blowout loss to Alabama, Pinkel said he was done talking about injuries.
“We’re not going to talk about it anymore,” Pinkel said during his press conference on Oct. 22. “We don’t have excuses for anything around here.”
During Tuesday’s press conference, he said that the injuries did hurt Missouri but that he won’t use that as an excuse for the team not making a bowl game.
Pinkel said it’s important to factor injuries into his final analysis of the team’s season but he can’t place too much weight on injuries and not also look at some of the mistakes his team made throughout the season.
Missouri’s biggest problem may have been its inconsistent quarterback play.
“Our quarterback has to play at a very high level all the time,” Pinkel said. “That’s the way it is. That’s how we do things.”
Missouri didn’t receive that level of production from either James Franklin or Corbin Berkstresser this season.
Franklin missed four games because of injury (MCL sprain in left knee, inflamed bursa sac and concussion). And, Berkstresser was an ineffective replacement for much of the season. The redshirt freshman quarterback had five touchdowns and seven interceptions in 2012.
Even when Franklin was playing, he wasn’t the same quarterback he was in 2011 when he had 36 total touchdowns (21 passing, 15 rushing). Franklin had 10 touchdowns, none on the ground, and seven interceptions.
Franklin battled with confidence issues, as well.
The pressure from the fans and media has bothered Franklin at times. After he refused to take painkillers before the Arizona State game, Franklin missed the game and received a lot of criticism for it. He defended his decision, by posted an explanation on his Facebook wall. After his four-interception game against Florida, Franklin sulked for a few days, answering questions at the following Monday’s media day in a quiet, reserved tone.
Franklin hasn’t been the only one to receive extra criticism and scrutiny from the fans and media this season. Pinkel has received just as much, if not more.
Pinkel said the pressure from the fans and media is a good thing, sometimes.
“I think it’s great,” he said. “We got people that have a high expectation level for winning. That’s what you want.”
Pinkel, though, may experience more pressure to win next season because another 5-7 season could bring talk of whether Alden should fire him.