July 17, 2012
We're ready to continue with Missouri, Coach Gary Pinkel.
Good afternoon. Certainly excited to be here at our first SEC pre-season press conference here. Appreciate you all being here.
We're excited about obviously joining the league. There's been a transition that's taken place, will take place probably for some time to come, certainly different areas of it. We've been working hard since January in our preparation for the football season. Our players have been working very hard this summer. We'll get going August 1st and start our practices, then hopefully we can play our best football when we get to September 1st. Excited about being a part of this great league, and understand, too, when you go into a league like this, you're new, you have to prove yourself, earn respect, and that's what we're going to work hard to do.
We'll take questions now.
Q. You were mentioning about earning respect. Is there a fine line of telling your guys, "Let's go out and play, this is a tough league, let's don't be intimidated?"
I'd be disappointed if we were intimidated. We played in a pretty good football league ourselves. We understand the great league we're coming into. It's all going to play out. We all know how it works. It's in the process. How is Missouri and Texas A&M going to do in the SEC, there's going to be an analysis every single week.
You have to go out and play and compete. That's the way it should be. It's going to be decided on the football field. We're excited about doing that.
Q. Do you look at the Georgia game, put any extra emphasis on it, as a chance to earn that respect? Do you think people undersell the Big 12?
Everybody is going to analyze that the way they want. I'm not going to try to come up here and prove ourselves and that we play in a pretty good football league. You'll all have your opinions on that, that's fine.
I think the Georgia game, it's big. Normally never talk about a game other than your first game ever. We understand historically for the University of Missouri it's going to be a big game, the first SEC game, the first SEC home game for our university.
It's going to be a big game for us. But there's going to be a lot of big games. I think that's one of the things that separates the SEC from the other leagues in this country, there's so many good football teams you're going to play week in, week out. That's what defines the league.
So hopefully we can play our best game there. But then there's a lot more to come that we've got to play well also.
Q. Talk about recruiting, not specific about players, but joining the SEC, do you look at the offense and defense and start on that basis in recruiting just to match up with the other teams because the SEC is so dominant on both lines?
I think anyplace you play, any league you play in college football, I think your best teams are going to be if you're good up front on offense and defensive line, you have a chance to compete at the highest level. In the Big 12, when I coached years ago in the PAC-10, wherever I was, generally the teams that were most physical up front were the teams that competed for the highest prize that particular year for a championship.
I don't think it's any different than this league. We recruit how we recruit. We're not doing anything different in terms of player development. We understand that. We understand the offenses are considerably different I think overall in this league as compared to what we played in the Big 12. That's all analysis of schemes, offense, defense, kicking all personnel.
Part of the transition is we have all these teams we never played before. We have reports and analysis written up on every single team that we're playing, there will be just a lot more this year because we're playing in a different league.
I think all those things will sort themselves out.
Q. You're in your 12th year at Missouri, but first year in the SEC. Talk about what that is like. How big is the stability of you and your staff going into a new conference?
Certainly staying in one school for 12 years, then all of a sudden switching leagues, that's probably historic in itself. How many college coaches could say that could ever happen? The transition has been significant for me. We're doing things we never thought we'd be doing in this transition that's taking place and will continue to play takes. But yet I think the continuity of our staff has been important. We have a system in place. Are we changing how we recruit? No. Do we change how we train our players? No. We believe in what we do. Certainly we'll be tested. That's fine. That's how it should be.
Anybody that has done any analysis of our staff probably know I've had as consistent a staff as anywhere in the country. I got great coaches that have had opportunities to leave and they've stayed. That continuity has been tremendously important for us to build our program at Missouri, and I think it will be tremendously important for us as we expand our recruiting areas certainly into SEC country, into Georgia, Louisiana, Florida, so on and so forth. I think that continuity will help carry us through there in a positive way.
Q. You obviously go back with Nick Saban quite a bit. Can you tell us what he was like in college and what kind of relationship you have now?
First of all, he's older than me. I want to make that very clear (smiling). We played college football. We're Don James guys. I think Don James walked in there right after
my freshman year. Had a remarkable influence on me, as he did to Nick Saban.
Nick and I's careers went different ways. He bounced around to a lot of places. I was two years at Bowling Green, 12 years at Washington, now it's my 22nd year as a head coach. I survived enough to do that.
Truth be known, also when Nick was a head coach at Toledo for one year, then he decided to go with Bill Belichick to the Cleveland Browns, called me up and asked me if I was
interested. I said I was. He put me in a position to get an underneath opportunity. That's very important. An opportunity. I'm appreciative to him. He's a great football coach. I have great respect for him, always have.
As a player, great competitor. Very tough, physical player. Very dedicated. Very committed, very team oriented. I think that reflects the intensity level, very high intensity level. I think that's the same guy you see coach and have the great success he's had in college football. I think historically he'll go down as one of the great coaches in college football. And he should.
Q. Could you talk a little bit about Elvis Fisher, what he's been through, what he's done to get himself back, your expectations of him.
Certainly Elvis is a really good player for us. Last year when he had that injury right at the beginning of the season, beginning of August as a matter of fact last year, that started kind of a run of a lot of injuries we had a year ago.
To get him back, you have a left tackle like that that is that good a player, his experience level, his leadership level, he brings so much more than just being a good football player.
I think he's worked tremendously hard to get back. Been very positive. We're excited that he came back for us final season.
Q. Can you get a sense of what it's like for him to be able to play in the SEC when he's a Florida guy.
For him, I think he's certainly excited about that without question. He grows up in Florida. The SEC is obviously huge. I think the one comment he had months ago when we were talking about it, when did he ever imagine going to Missouri, playing in the SEC. It's like me coaching, what's the possibility of that ever happening.
He's excited about it. I know he is.
Q. In light of some new studies and information about head and brain injuries, do you worry more than you used to about the long-term impact on the health of your players and do you think there's anything that can be done to make the game safer without fundamentally altering what football is?
Well, I think you have to address the issue. We see the studies and things are happening in the NFL right now. I know a couple players that played many years in the NFL and have some issues. First of all, equipment I think is better than it's ever been. I think the awareness, the rule changes, the spearing, those type things, getting the crown of the helmet, all the
different things they're analyzing and calling now, it's good. It's good for college football. It protects college football.
Athletes are bigger, stronger, faster, quicker than they've ever been before. You have guys playing safety that, size-wise, would have been linebackers in the NFL years ago. I think we got it right. I think there's a lot of people that get frustrated that we're controlling it too much. But I think if we don't control it, we're going to have severe problems. I think we're doing the right things to help protect kids. I think we'll continue to get better and better as it goes.
Q. Talk about the tremendous atmosphere that playing at home in Memorial Stadium, you were 5-1 last year, and especially with new teams that you're dealing with from the SEC coming to your campus for the first time.
We call our place 'The Zou.' It's a great place to play college football. First two games, Southeast Louisiana will be at night, but obviously the Georgia game will be also. That's kind of a whole new dimension I think in terms of playing in our stadium.
Our fans, to say that they are excited about us being in the SEC would be a complete understatement. They've become fanatical about it. It's exciting to see. I think that says so much for the great respect nationally that the SEC has.
But our fans are excited about it. We're going to play some great teams that come in there. In this league you have to play well every week, you got to finish games, you have to win games in the fourth quarter. We understand that. We're excited about playing on the road. I've always enjoyed that part of college football. We're excited about teams coming in and having them play us in The Zou.
Q. Could you discuss the offensive skill position talent you'll bring back in 2012, in particular at quarterback.
Well, James Franklin is doing well. We expect, without question, for him to be a hundred percent. The trainer told us that two weeks ago. It will be interesting to see in August as he's throwing more consistently over and over again, repetition-wise to see his accuracy, which I think really improved a whole lot last year as the season went on.
Full starter for a year coming back. What you want to do is eliminate some of the mistakes in each game to become more of a complete quarterback. I think potential in our last three quarterbacks are playing in the NFL right now, I think he's in line. He's that kind of a potential player.
I think we got some good skilled back receivers, runningbacks. I think we got some good folks there.
Our offense is a spread offense. People know we can do a lot of different things. We were top 15th in the nation last year in rushing the football. We can go a lot of different ways with our offense depending on what we need to do in our personnel.
So we're going to get tested. We're playing some great defenses. We understand that. But we're going to do what we do and adjust accordingly, as we always do, as the season goes on so we can play our best.
Q. You were talking about James before, becoming a complete quarterback. What kind of adjustments does he need to make?
Well, I don't think he really needs to adjust that way. I think overall, if you ask me what does he need to do, I don't care what league we're going into, if we stay in the Big 12, he needs to eliminate those one or two mistakes that young quarterbacks make. You reduce those in half, then we're going to get the consistency factor out of him there.
I think him running the football, again, I told him it doesn't matter what league you're in, we told him at the end of the year, fourth-and-one, third-and-one, I want you to compete, go get it. Other than that, you learn to go down, you learn not to take the big hit.
They show us that run he has against Texas A&M, where he runs over three defenders. Well, that's good, a great sign of leadership, competitiveness, it certainly fires our team up. But that also hurts our football team, okay? That hurts our team.
You have to pick your moments, third-and-one, fourth-and-one, taking big hits, we don't need to do that.
I think he understands that. I think he got a little bit more of that at the end of the year. You know, his ability to be able to throw the football accurately down field, I think he improved much as the season went on last year. I'll be real disappointed if he doesn't have a real good year in a great league.
Q. Do you think that the Missouri family has a little bit of a chip on their shoulders because they've been told over and over that you've been playing JV football and now you're going to the big league.
I don't really know how to interpret that question. You get a lot of, We're playing in the SEC now, this great league. It's like some people, around the summer, I've got a place down in Florida, go down there sometimes, people act like we've been playing a bunch of high school teams. We've played in a pretty big league.
I don't think it's a chip necessarily. To me it's being a competitor. As a competitor, you get challenged a little bit. I told our football team this, and I said this before, this analysis of Missouri and Texas A&M coming from the Big 12, which certainly was, but is a really good league most of the years we were there without question nationally, one of the best leagues in the country, it's going to take place, it's going to happen. Bottom line, you got to go out and prove yourself. I'm fine with it. I have no problem with it. Not going to make any predictions. Never have, never will. You have to go out and compete and earn respect and win. Only way you're going to get respect is winning games, okay? That's the way it's going to happen. I got no problem with that. You got to prove yourself.
Q. Kevin Sumlin earlier recounted the story of when it became real for him being in the league. He said it was at the coaches meeting and he saw the 13 coaches and Commissioner Slive in the room with him. Can you share your memory of that day and if you had a similar reaction to him.
You know, I was in the Big 12. For me, I know two-thirds of those coaches sitting in that meeting, they're friends. I was in the Big 12. It was, How you guys doing, let's go to work.
Q. You mentioned earlier being multiple on offense, the skill positions you do return. Coming into this conference with most teams having the strength of the front seven, linebackers, defensive linemen, do you expect to go into the majority of the games this season using extra receiver sets to remove a defensive lineman from most of these defenses?
What we'll do, we'll game plan these things, game plan, adjustments, three receivers, four receivers, five receivers, however you want to do it. You have to see their adjustments, and then you develop a game plan. We're going to do that. We'll make adjustments as the season goes on. We understand that. But we're going to run our offense and we're going to do what we do. But as we get through a game, another game, so on, we will make adjustments, which we can, because we're so multiple, of things we hopefully need to do to become successful.
That's going to be a big story. Our offense in this league with the great defenses historically. That's going to be another one, day one, follow as it is now all the way through the entire season. We'll just see how it turns out.
Q. There's talk about when you become permanent rivals with Arkansas, that game might become the Thanksgiving type game.
I'm sure it will hopefully develop into a big rivalry, an historic one as time goes on. You kind of have to earn that as that goes. I got great respect for Arkansas. I've not really listened or paid much attention to kind of the projection of where that game could be or when it could be. I don't know much about that. I have too many things to be concerned about this year as we're preparing for this season.
But, you know, neighboring state. Certainly a school that's been very, very successful. When the time comes, we'll be excited about being a part of it.
Q. Missouri has not played many SEC teams over its history. Do you expect natural rivalries to grow? How do you see that coming?
I just think through time, you know. I won't be coaching when probably some of those things happen. How many years that takes to develop, I've not given that much thought.
My focus has been on getting our football team ready to play their best game this year. You know, I think without question, our players are excited about playing in this league, there's no question about that. It's been remarkably positive in recruiting for us. That would be an understatement to say in terms of the reaction to high school players around the country. It's been tremendously positive.
So, you know, we're excited about all this, what the SEC brings, being a part of it.
Q. A lot of SEC fans are going to be traveling to Columbia for the first time. Best question is, Where should we eat when we come up?
I'd get in big trouble for answering that one, I guarantee. Why don't you email the city restaurant organization or something, okay (smiling)? I can name a couple restaurants and I'd get in trouble. I can't do that. A lot of great food, though. A lot of great restaurants. The Mizzou Nation is excited about you coming in.
Q. There's a handful of top tier runningbacks coming back in the SEC from major knee or leg injuries. Could that play an impact on Henry Josey's mentality as he continues to rehab his knee injury?
First of all, Henry Josey, for most of you who might not know much about him, he was one of the top three or four rushers in the nation until he had two knee injuries. He's a remarkable young man with a tremendous attitude who has worked very, very hard. I think he'll identify, our trainers, the people around him will identify, anybody out there, there's players certainly in this league right now that are coming off of knee injuries that return to greatness. I'm sure he'll be looking for those examples. That will be a plus and very motivating for him in a very positive way.
Q. What kind of atmosphere should we be expecting in Columbia on September 8th against Georgia?
Well, I think it's a great college game day experience. I think our fans go crazy. I know it's a great league. I've watched it on TV. I've played some of the places before, been a part of that as a coach.
But, you know, we're part of the SEC. We want to prove that we belong to it as fans as well as players and coaches. I think you'll see a place that's very electric. They'll go wild, and that's probably an understatement.
Q. You mentioned the change in leagues having an impact on recruiting already. Can you speak to what it meant for Dorial Green-Beckham to commit to you late in the process like he did?
As you all know, he was the No. 1 ranked player last year. Fortunately for us, he came to Missouri. He's been working hard all summer. Some of the players that come by my office, they talk about Dorial, they talk about what a great kid he is. All this attention for the last few years, that's encouraging. I think that's really the reason why he has a chance to become a great player, because he's humble, he wants to learn, he's a great competitor.
Anybody that comes into our football program, Jeremy Maclin, I can go on and on, come in and play at freshmen, you start at the bottom of the list and work your way up. That's where he is, at the bottom of the list. He'll compete to get playing time, help us win football games. I know he's excited about doing it. We'll get going on that August 2nd.
Q. Missouri has taken as many as 12 players out of Texas. Will you continue to recruit out of Texas and how many people will you have recruiting out of Texas?
When I was head coach at Toledo, we came to Missouri, we recruited nationally. But we also had recruiting areas, too, specific places around Missouri. We looked at Texas as a place that we needed another place. Missouri is the most important to us, but a place that plays great high school football, a place we could go in and evaluate and bring players.
We've had great success in Texas. A lot of NFL players. That's kind of multiplied over the last few years.
You know what, also, the number of coaches we had in Texas, when we first got there, were three, and we left with five. So we made a transition. We're making a transition now. There's great high school football in the SEC. We're making a transition into Georgia, into Florida. I expect us to tweak that a little bit as it goes. That's going to be part of the ongoing part of transition to this league. Exactly where it's going to go, I'm not sure. We'll make those decisions when we feel it's important and we can put ourselves and align ourselves in the right way. One of the most important things in my opinion, we go in certainly I think with a little respect. We've won at a fairly high level over the last six, seven years, graduating 96% of our players in the same amount of time. I think we go in with some respect, when we go into the new high schools.
But the greatest seller that you have always, how we build a reputation in Texas, is your players come up from Atlanta or wherever they come in, Jacksonville, they come in, have great success, they come in, go back, tell their high school coaches, they tell their counselors, their old teammates, the young guys, Hey, Missouri is a great place, go there. That's the greatest sale you can get and that happens over a period of time.
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