Might Gary Pinkel be entering his final season as the Missouri head coach?
Just two years ago, it may have been unthinkable that Mizzou and Gary Pinkel’s inaugural season in the SEC – a move viewed by many as so promising – could have gone so badly. In fact, the Tigers are coming off their first losing season since 2004, and several are wondering if the Tigers can compete and when they will start taking advantage of the massive SEC brand backing them.
The offseason is a time when the hot seat talks start to gain a pulse. And it could be said that every SEC coach fights for his proverbial life every season. That’s just the reality of the league from an uber-competitive and seemingly dominant state. Most coaches will have job security regardless of their 2013 outcome, but not Gary Pinkel.
Pinkel sits alone on the SEC hot seat entering 2013.
The then Big 12 Tigers averaged nearly 10 wins per season in their last five years in the conference, winning three of five bowl games. Pinkel won 48 games between 2007 and 2011.
And yet after one year in the SEC, Missouri knows the bar as been raised.
Last year’s 5-7 record was frustrating and downright forgettable. The Tigers won just two conference games against Tennessee and Kentucky and lost the other six games by an average of 19.2 points per game. What’s worse is that the Tigers were projected to have a better season than their SEC expansion brethren, Texas A&M, but we witnessed how the Aggies electrified the league in every way. That ratcheted things up even tighter.
Don’t get me wrong; there were several reasons why 2012 was bad: the bevy of injuries on the offensive line, the absence of star running back Henry Josey, and the fact that the offense never could regain their 2011 form, namely James Franklin and his injury-plagued season.
In fact, the 2011 offense led by Franklin averaged over 32 points per game and finished 12th in the country in total offense. However, 2012 revealed a massive lack of depth and an offense that had trouble busting a grape in league play. The Tigers finished the season as the 11th best offense and 11th best scoring offense in the SEC, averaging 21.88 points per game. Take out the high scoring affairs against Kentucky (33 points) and Tennessee (51 points), the average points per game drops to 15.17 in league play.
Something had to change, and something did change.
Offensive coordinator, quarterback guru and recruiting specialist David Yost resigned, leaving Pinkel to promote co-offensive line coach Josh Henson to offensive coordinator. Henson’s background suggests that Missouri’s offense could evolve into a more power-based running attack, as Henson has spent time on Les Miles’ staff at both Oklahoma State and LSU.
Pinkel’s personal life also took some heat in November of 2011 after he was arrested on suspicion of DWI. Pinkel pled guilty to the charges, and Missouri suspended him for one game, froze his salary for a year, stripped his bonus for the Independence Bowl Game. The cost of the discipline totaled $300,000, according to USA Today.
Yet, in 2011, Pinkel signed a two-year extension through 2017, and certainly firing him after a disappointing first-year in the SEC would have been quite presumptuous.
One area Missouri must get better and start acquiring a pulse in is recruiting.
Pinkel and the Tigers are not known for landing star-studded classes. Still, Pinkel has developed five first-round draft picks in the last five years with some unheralded two and three stars. That’s second to only Alabama and Florida, tying them with LSU.
After their first full year backed by the SEC brand, Missouri finished just 42nd in the country and 14th in the SEC in recruiting, according to 247Sports.
Pinkel has proven he can develop lower-rated prospects into first-round picks, but can he recruit to the top level and volume of talented players it takes to win in the SEC? That remains to be seen.
Several are of the opinion that Pinkel has some good years left in him at Mizzou. He just can’t do it alone, especially with such a dismal offensive performance and injury-plagued 2012 season.
Pinkel has been with the Tigers since 2001, posting an overall record of 90-61. But no season yet has been as big for Pinkel or as big for Missouri’s program.
Photo Credit: Denny Medley-US PRESSWIRE