Hoover, Ala. — If you’re asking who’s my favorite college football coach, the answer is Gary Pinkel of Missouri. It’s not that he’s quotable. (He’s not very.) It’s not that he has won a bunch of national titles. (He has none.) It’s not that he works for my alma mater. (He doesn’t.) I just like the way the guy conducts his business.
He has won the SEC East two years running. (For the record, Mizzou was picked sixth in the division in 2013, fourth last year.) His program has outperformed Georgia and Florida and Tennessee, schools with more illustrious football pedigrees, and has done it not simply by signing a bunch of really good players but by turning fair-to-middling signees into really good players.
Over the past 10 years, Rivals has rated Missouri’s recruiting classes thusly: 47th, 33rd, 25th, 40th, 21st, 48th, 31st, 41st, 34th and 27th. That perceived lack of talent was the reason Mizzou was seen as a ride-along when Texas A&M shouldered its way into the SEC. The Tigers might help their new league in basketball, the thinking went, but not in the One True Sport.
Wrong. Mizzou graced the SEC championship game twice in its first three seasons. Didn’t win either time, but still: That’s some good football-playin’ by the school that didn’t figure to play much football, and much of that had to do with coaching.
Pinkel is no orator. His session before the assembled media here Wednesday ended before its allotted time. Nobody could think of anything else to ask. “We’re not going to change a lot of what we do because what we do works,” Pinkel said, and he mentioned that the program’s slogan was “Mizzou Made.” Meaning: You might not be much when you arrive here, but if you pay attention and work hard, we’ll make a player of you.
Said Pinkel: “They don’t have to be great football players. We can teach them how to be great football players.”
If you can think of a program better at player development, please advise. I cannot. Pinkel again: “We think we do it as well as anybody in the country.”
Someone wondered if Pinkel would notice where the media picks his Tigers to finish. (The voting will be announced Thursday.) He said he wouldn’t. “If you picked us first or third or fourth or fifth, it would have no impact on me at all,” he said.
When most coaches express such a sentiment, you know they’re fibbing. You get the feeling Pinkel is telling the truth. He cares nothing for style. He’s a coach in the truest sense, meaning that he’s at base a teacher. He always credits Don James, the former Washington coach, as his mentor, which means that, once upon a time, Pinkel was smart enough to be taught.
As much as I admire what this program has done, I’d pick Missouri third in the East. (Behind Tennessee and Georgia, ahead of Florida and South Carolina.) But we probably should stopped being shocked by anything Gary Pinkel does, don’t you think?
From earlier Wednesday: Bama’s Saban has been reduced to making excuses.
From Tuesday: Could Tennessee’s “defining moment” come against UGA?
From earlier Tuesday: The great Spurrier is surely nearing an end.
From Monday: Auburn-Louisville — the all-time Atlanta hate game.
From earlier Monday: Auburn banks on a big QB with a big arm.