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2013 Mizzou Walkthrough: Gary Pinkel has proven a lot, has a lot to prove

We begin the 2013 Walkthrough series with the man at the top of the Mizzou totem pole.

Bill Carter

Before we know what Missouri needs to do better or different, before we come to truly understand what pieces of Gary Pinkel's "process" need permanent alteration, we need to see what Missouri can do when it actually fields a Gary Pinkel team. Because we certainly didn't see it in 2012. […]

For years, Gary Pinkel has made his name taking Top 30-40 classes and creating a Top 15-30 product out of them. In 2007, Missouri produced a No. 9 final F/+ ranking with a roster that came from classes ranked 28th, 46th, 39th, 47th and 33rd (average rank: 38.6). In 2008, the Tigers ranked 14th with an average class rank of 38.0. In 2010, they ranked 13th with an average class rank of 33.2. In 2011, they ranked 22nd with an average class rank of 33.4.

At its best, Gary Pinkel's "process" produces results above what recruiting rankings would suggest. And if the "process" is operating properly, that doesn't have to change in a new conference. Granted, a Top 15 product is more likely to produce a 9-3 record instead of a 10-2 record in the SEC, but it would still be a Top 15 product. And granted, a Top 30 product might only go 7-5 or 8-4, but ... 7-5 is not 5-7. A 7-5 record in 2013 would represent a clear step forward. We'll worry about other steps after the first one. […]

To win in the SEC, you have to … field a good team. That's it. To win a lot in the SEC, you have to field a great team. It doesn't matter how you do it -- recruiting, development, blind luck -- it just matters that you do it. There's nothing saying the type of team Gary Pinkel produced for most of the 2006-11 range, with performance exceeding recruiting rankings by 10-20 spots, wouldn't fare alright in the SEC; maybe the records are slightly different (say, one win worse on average), and maybe at some point in the future we have to determine whether the quality of a good Pinkel product (Top 15-25 on average) is good enough. But in 2012, Missouri fielded its worst team since 2004. Maybe the Tigers pull off a 6-6 record in the Big 12, but last year didn't see the typical Pinkel product, and it's up to him to prove he can, at the very least, get Missouri back to where it was before the injuries came cascading in. Pinkel turned the program around starting in 2005; now he gets the chance to do it again.

In 2013, Gary Pinkel's goal isn't to change everything about his process because of Missouri's new conference; it's simply to prove that his process can still field a good team. That's it.

I don't have too much to add to the above piece that I wrote back in March. No matter what Gary Pinkel accomplishes from here on out, he has pretty much clinched the No. 3 spot in Mizzou's all-time coaching rankings. He hasn't pulled off a decade of dominance (or near-dominance) like Dan Devine, and he hasn't invented a sport-altering offensive formation or steered Mizzou to two major bowls like Don Faurot. (Granted, he was screwed out of one in 2007, but that would still leave him one major bowl and one sport-altering formation short.) He will not sink below third, and he probably will not rise to second. His status in the Mizzou pantheon is pretty much locked into place.

That said, he still has so much to prove. A year ago, it seemed all but official: Pinkel would coach a few more years, guide Mizzou both into the SEC and on to another few bowl games, and retire when his contract, recently renewed, was up. The biggest concern was the awkwardness that might come on as his contract neared its end -- Do you name a head-coach-in-waiting? Do you risk the tailing-off of recruiting when kids know you're not going to be around much longer?

But after a year of incredible frustration and an even more incredible injury list, that has all changed. Pinkel enters 2013 with the hottest seat of any SEC coach, and while that's partially due to the fact that damn near half the conference (six of the other 13 schools) has made a change in the last two years, it's also due to Mizzou's fading fortunes. After winning 40 games from 2007-10 and ranking 13th in the F/+ rankings in 2010, the Tigers slipped to 8-5 and 22nd in 2011 (not much of a slip, obviously), then to 5-7 and 58th last year. The five-year rankings are still strong, and Mizzou will be putting quite a bit of talent onto the field in 2013, but for the first time in a while, Pinkel's "process" is in question. His "We do what we do" mantra has gone back from stodgy and charming to stubborn!!! and annoying!!!!!!!!!

I'm really not sure what to think of Mizzou in 2013. As I've said a few times now, Mizzou has all but clinched No. 14 in the SEC recruiting rankings for 2014, but the staff has also landed a record number of pre-August commitments. Recruiting is going both well and poorly at the moment; but the dissonance and contradiction only fit into that of the rest of the program. Offense has been both a strength (most of 2005-11) and weakness (2012). Defense has produced stars (four first-round draft picks since 2009) and shaky depth (it's possible both Randy Ponder and Matt White, maligned in previous years, will start in this year's secondary). Up is down for Mizzou in 2013, and all we know for sure is that a) Mizzou's program is being openly questioned more than it has been since 2005, and b) Gary Pinkel seems more upbeat and energized than he has for a few years. Just set the expectations aside; you have no idea what Mizzou might do in 2013 and beyond, and neither do I. Uncertainty is fun, right?

Mizzou Rugby: I don’t know how other people feel about Pinkel after this past season, but as I’ve had more time to think about it, the more I think that last year was an outlier rather than the start of a downward trend. The issues he faced in 2012 are almost too numerous to list: Franklin’s bum shoulder right out of spring camp, a hectic and disruptive conference change throughout the summer, family issues, more Franklin injuries/refusal to take medication, a clearly overworked David Yost slipping in play-calling duties, the nuclear disaster that was the O-Line. Pinkel had a lot on his plate and not a lot of ways to fix those problems in-season. Here’s hoping that following a disappointing season, we see Pinkel and his team more motivated, and prepared for a victorious 2013 campaign.

countrycal: I’ve got a lot of confidence in HCGP. With all the injuries on the offensive side of the ball, entering a new conference which is arguably tougher than the previous home territory, and dealing at home with a separation from his wife of 40 years, Pinkel still stayed true to himself, his team, his school and his coaching philosophy. I think the guy is solid and good for our school and our athletes. I am looking forward to seeing him and the Tigers recoup to their previous level of performance in 2013. If not, then I will look forward for it to happen the next year. I see no reason whatsoever to even consider changing our head coach any time in the near future – success is not a hit or miss thing, it is the result of a consistent quality effort from quality coaches and athletes.

The Beef: After reading what Rugby and Cal had to say, I don’t know that I have much more to add. If I have a concern, it is about the depth of talent of the team, which comes back to recruiting. Don’t get me wrong, and as Bill has said before, only about 3-5 teams in the country have the depth the Tigers would have needed to overcome the injuries from last year. That said, and for instance, we now need our offensive line to rotate 8-10 players from game to game. That development needs to come from all the coaches, led by HCGP.

We have already heard and seen where Pinkel is further loosening up, as the two-a-days are now a thing of the past, and the level of contact/hitting has shifted. I think it is a laughable inference that PInkel has lost his touch or is otherwise checked out. The man is a coach and a damn successful one at that. The year (barring another rash of injuries) may simply determine if GP can be successful in the SEC or not.