Pinkel: Mizzou to stay course despite SEC flop

Like most football lifers, Missouri coach Gary Pinkel is a
creature of habit.

So rather than linger over a disappointing SEC debut that saw
the Tigers go 5-7 and break a seven-year streak of bowl
appearances, the 60-year-old coach showed up ready for work on
Monday, starting with his usual 5 a.m. weightlifting session.

”I love what I do,” Pinkel told reporters Tuesday, quickly
dispelling rumors of his pending retirement or even a change by his
bosses. ”I couldn’t wait to get into work.”

Pinkel said he has no plans to make dramatic changes to the
team’s once-prolific spread offense or other schemes and will
retain his entire coaching staff, most of whom have been by his
side for years. That doesn’t mean more modest modifications aren’t
in order.

”I embrace the foundation of our program when things get
tough,” he said. ”But then, we evaluate every single thing we do
here, all the time, always. That’s never changed.”

The season began with high expectations for Missouri, which left
the Big 12 Conference for the Southeastern Conference in hopes of
building a national brand, gaining more long-term stability and
reaping more TV revenue riches. Instead, the coach’s 12th season in
Columbia turned into one of his most trying, from lopsided losses
to SEC powers Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina, to off-field
challenges such as the early season drug arrests of several
freshmen players, and Pinkel’s divorce from his wife of nearly 40
years.

Faced with a shot to salvage the season with a .500 record and
another bowl bid, Missouri fell flat in its final game, a 59-29
loss at Texas A&M – another Big 12 refugee – that saw the
Aggies open a 42-0 lead late in the first half.

Missouri’s only conference wins in eight tries came against
Kentucky and Tennessee, two schools that wound up firing their
coaches.

Pinkel’s comments were largely measured on Tuesday, with the
coach who normally wears Mizzou workout gear instead dressed in a
suit and tie for a friend’s funeral later in the day. He was more
open with his disappointment one night earlier, telling a statewide
radio audience during his final weekly coach’s show that the subpar
season ”just destroys me personally.”

He offered qualified support for junior quarterback James
Franklin, who missed all or parts of nearly half the team’s games
with shoulder and ankle injuries and a late-season concussion. His
replacement, redshirt freshman Corbin Berkstresser, was erratic,
but both played behind an offensive line wracked by injuries. The
third-string quarterback, highly touted recruit Maty Mauk, took a
redshirt and didn’t play this season

”Quarterback is no different position for us than any other,”
Pinkel said. ”The best player plays. There’s no pecking order. …
Everybody will have an opportunity to win the job.”

On defense, Pinkel seemed fairly certain that defensive tackle
Sheldon Richardson will not return for his senior season, calling
the mercurial lineman who missed a narrow home loss to Syracuse for
violating team rules a likely first-round pick in the NFL
draft.

”If I was a betting man, I’d think he’s going to go,” Pinkel
said.

And while Pinkel didn’t discuss next season’s opponents,
Missouri has a more forgiving 2013 schedule than in its inaugural
SEC campaign, with home games against Murray State, Toledo,
Florida, South Carolina , Tennessee and Texas A&M and road
trips to Indiana, Vanderbilt, Georgia, Kentucky and
Mississippi.

Alan Scher Zagier can be reached at
http://twitter.com/azagier