Pinkel meets the media at SEC Championship
ATLANTA — University of Missouri coach Gary Pinkel participated in a half-hour press conference with reporters Friday afternoon, before the Tigers arrived and practiced at the Georgia Dome.
Here’s some of what he said (transcript by ASAPSports):
“First of all, I’d like to just say a comment about Commissioner Slive. I’ve been in the league three years. I’ve heard so many things about him before I got here.
“Just his leadership style, his management, how he handled what he did for the SEC, certainly what he’s done for college football, I’m appreciative I had a few years to be around him. I want to wish him well.
“What a remarkable man and the influence he has had on college football.
We’ll probably be flying out of here in about an hour. We’re excited about being here. It’s a great honor to be representing the Eastern Division of the SEC. We know we’re playing a really, really good football team in Alabama.
“We’re excited to get here, look forward to hopefully playing well.”
Q. How difficult and how challenging has it been to game plan for this offense?
COACH PINKEL: Well, it presents a lot of problems, a lot of formations. They put Cooper all over the place. Just presents a lot of problems.
They can run the ball well, big offensive line, do a lot of zone blocking, play‑action pass, throw the ball downfield. It’s certainly a task at hand here for us. I think they’ve got a great offensive design. Makes it very difficult.
Q. Maty Mauk, the development he’s had. How do you feel he’s grown?
COACH PINKEL: He had a really good freshman year. Came in, redshirt freshman here. Pretty much documented. He struggled a little bit middle of the season. It wasn’t all him. We had some receiver issues. We had some issues, offensive line, a lot of things in throwing the football, efficiency. Proud of how he’s battled back through it. He’s a great competitor. When he was going through it, I said learning curves happen at different times. You’re going to learn from this and it will make you a better quarterback down the road. I think it has. Generally when we go through adversity we learn from it and grow if we’re smart, I think he has. He’s been playing well, quarterbacking well. We’re certainly going against a great defense that will challenge that.
Q. I know it was two different teams and offensive coordinators when you played them last year, but any advantage for your team having played Alabama a year ago?
COACH PINKEL: That was actually two years ago. It was the year before. We really haven’t talked about that game at all honestly. As a staff, we went back and looked at it, because you want to be responsible, attention to detail, do all the right things. But our players see Alabama enough. They have great respect for Alabama. In this league you have great respect for everybody. If you don’t, you’re in trouble. But certainly Nick has done such a great job. We’re focusing on trying to play our best. That’s what we’re trying to do.
Q. Did you learn anything from the Auburn-Alabama game, the way Auburn was able to attack the Alabama defense?
COACH PINKEL: They threw the ball down the field, got some big plays. I think that’s the way it went that way. Alabama was good enough to overcome that. Everybody has to run their offense their way, do things they want to do. Their defense and offense both are challenges. That’s why they’re good. We’ll kind of see where it goes.
Q. I wanted to ask about Amari Cooper, how difficult it is to scheme for him? Do you think he’s one of the best players in the country?
COACH PINKEL: Yes, yes, yes and yes (laughter). Talking to Nick, he’s just a great person, too, which makes the story that much better. Just a great player, a play‑maker. Look at the number of catches he has, the production he’s had. They have other good receivers. But that’s what they lean on. Everybody knows they’re going to throw the ball to him all the time, he still catches all those balls, it’s really problematic. Everybody is going to have a plan. You’re not going to stop the guy, there’s no way. But you try to contain the guy. I’m very, very impressed with him. If there’s a better receiver in the country, I’d like to see it.
Q. How important is it for you to defensively get pressure?
COACH PINKEL: We always want to get pressure. We know that’s a great equalizer with any quarterback, teams that throw the ball well. The challenge is, can you do it. They’ve given up very few sacks. I think that says a lot about their scheme, a lot about Sims, a lot about their offensive line and their practice. We get to the quarterback a lot. But they’ve done a great job of protecting him. We’re going to see where that goes. That’s going to be interesting to see who wins that battle as the game goes on.
Q. What, if anything, can you take to your team message‑wise of the experience of being in this game, in this type of atmosphere, just a year ago?
COACH PINKEL: I think most of the players, except for the freshmen, were here. It’s a big venue. I mean, the SEC Championship game is a big venue. Great stadium in Atlanta. Great numbers. So I think being here at least you understand it a little bit. You’re not going to be enamored with it as much, you can settle down. Ultimately if you’re thinking about all that stuff, you’re not going to play well. What you got to do is focus on playing your best, play by play by play, regardless of what happens, getting back to playing your best the next snap. That’s what we’re talking more about, how we play. I don’t think there’s any question, Would you have liked to have been in the game before? Of course you would, because of the experience.
Q. I know there’s a couple of high‑profile coaching vacancies out there now. Have you been approached by anybody for interest in those?
COACH PINKEL: No. I’m just coaching Mizzou football here. That’s where my focus is.
Q. Realistically did you think when y’all joined the SEC this would be possible to be in the championship game twice during your first three years? Do y’all feel like everybody in the conference is pulling against you except your fans?
COACH PINKEL: I’m one of those guys that goes in thinking I’m going to win every game every year as a coach. I focus over every game, try to do that. After the first year, I probably would have questioned that a little bit. We had a lot of injuries. We’ve been very, very healthy the last couple years, which has certainly helped us. This is about us and trying to play our best football game. Certainly we want to be the SEC champions. But yet if you’re going to be the SEC champions, you’re going to have to beat somebody really good to do it. That’s our challenge.
Q. After your slightly cataclysmic loss to Indiana early in the season, how much did you use that as a motivator for people that have basically written you off?
COACH PINKEL: We didn’t play very well, and they did. I’m not going to take anything away from Indiana. We didn’t play very well the first part of the season, to what my expectation was. My expectation was higher. I thought we should have been playing better than what we were. For whatever reason we weren’t. Then Georgia came in and beat us. We turned the ball over five times, but they beat us. So kind of for us it was a time, that Sunday afterwards, the sense of urgency became a whole new phrase for us. We can sit and talk about how we can be better, but we’re not getting there. The seniors elevated their leadership. The sense of urgency we realized. Slowly but surely we became a much better football team. I think we’re a lot better football team now than we were then.
Q. You talk about Blake Sims. Earlier you talked about the resiliency he showed, avoiding sacks. What impresses you the most about the way he’s performed this year as a starter?
COACH PINKEL: First of all, he’s a senior. They’ve done a great job with him. He’s had a lot of reps, certainly in practices also. He’s played a lot in terms of training. I just think the consistency of his play. He’s a very efficient quarterback. Efficiency rating is very, very high. Obviously do a great job of coaching him. Here is a guy that is an older guy, not a redshirt freshman or sophomore. He’s a guy that’s been around. They identified him and thought he could be the most consistent with his play. Obviously they made a great decision. He’s also a very good athlete. He can extend plays. He can do things with his feet which cause a lot of problems also. Very, very impressive player.
Q. You mentioned the team play, especially at the beginning of the year. Was there a turning point this year? What comes to my mind is the fourth quarter at South Carolina, but then the Georgia loss.
COACH PINKEL: I just think it was after the Georgia game. We had to look at each other. I think that was really the time. We methodically went through week after week after week and became a better football team.
Q. Clearly you have improved during the course of the season. I’m assuming you’ve seen almost every Alabama game this year as well. Where do you think they have improved over the course of the season as you study them?
COACH PINKEL: Well, I think they really have improved also. Their loss at Ole Miss, that loss, you find out about your football team when something like that happens. Obviously they kind of circled the wagons. That probably made them a better football team. They didn’t know it at the time. If you can stay healthy, you have good leadership, kids that really, really want to win, you can certainly improve as a team, and they have also.
Q. (No microphone.)
COACH PINKEL: Well, we wanted to build a state‑of‑the‑art football complex at the south end. We felt that would have the biggest impact on recruiting, to be honest with you.
From an infrastructure standpoint, to be able to have that, what that would do as far as opening other really quality, high‑level space for other sports, training rooms, facilities, I think it was kind of a home run in all respects. I’m excited about it. I think that will be a real plus for us. Hopefully we can get that thing going pretty quick.
Q. Could you talk about Alabama offensively, specifically the stable of runningbacks they have, your impressions specifically of Blake Sims.
COACH PINKEL: Well, what you have is, first of all, starting with their offensive line, very athletic, great size. You talk about difficult to sack. They’re a good running football team, big running backs. You have Cooper, amongst other great receivers. Then Sims is playing at a very, very high level. We talked about his efficiency, what he does. Other than that, it’s an easy task. But they’re good. You get in this game, you expect to play good people. They’ve really, really done well. Then defensively they got the big defensive tackles. They stop the run. Very athletic in the secondary. Nick is a defensive guy. They always play good defense. They got a great football team.
Q. (No microphone.)
COACH PINKEL: Everybody tries to get big plays. Everybody works to do that. It’s pretty difficult to do that on a consistent basis. They’re very, very athletic in the secondary. They’re very disciplined and well‑coached. We’re going to have to get a plan to attack the best we can. There’s no question about it, you’re going to have to make plays to win this game. You’re going to have to do that. I think we all know that. Who makes the most plays will have a better chance of winning. That’s going to be our challenge, for sure.
Q. Some of your players said Monday that last year in Atlanta, they might have been playing a little bit more for respect and Auburn for the championship. Going into this championship, how has that gone?
COACH PINKEL: I think you always want to win. I don’t think there’s any question about it. That goes without saying. My big thing is the chance you have to win, any football game you play, certainly this one, is you got to play well. Everybody has to play well. Consistent, rise to the occasion, play your best. That’s ultimately what’s important. That’s what our focus is, on playing well, giving ourselves a chance to win the game. We approach every football game like that, and this game is no different.
Q. Until recently Alabama’s run defense has been exceptional. They only allowed three rushing touchdowns all season. Given that, is there an added onus on Maty Mauk to play exceptionally well in this game right from the beginning to give you a chance?
COACH PINKEL: I think everybody’s got to play well. It’s not just Maty. Obviously any quarterback in college football has to play well if you want the offense to do well. But we’re going to have to block. We’re going to have to throw, catch, make plays, play good defense, hopefully limit big plays. Against one of the best receivers in the nation. That’s our challenge.
Q. How big has it been for you to have great pass‑rushers like Golden and Ray?
COACH PINKEL: Great competitors, great kids. I’m proud of how they compete. They obviously were juniors last year. Every team you play has different challenges. We talk about the speed and athleticism of those guys, the things they’ve done. That’s great. But then you look at Alabama and Sims gives up very few sacks. How is that going to play out? That’s certainly going to be part of the story a little bit. But I’m very, very proud of those guys. Very competitive. They’ve done a good job for us.
Q. Your former player, Michael Sam, how much support have you given him since he left you, not getting onto an NFL roster this year?
COACH PINKEL: Yeah, first team All‑American. Certainly proud of him. I get a text from him occasionally. We talk occasionally. There’s going to be life after football, whether he has another opportunity or not. Certainly he was given an opportunity and we’ll just see where it goes.
Q. I can’t help but ask after seeing that piece a few weeks ago on ESPN about you dancing. Have you prepared a victory dance should you win tomorrow evening?
COACH PINKEL: The answer to that is no (laughter).
Q. Obviously you have rush ends to get up the field, Sims has the ability to get under that.
COACH PINKEL: Craig Kuligowski is our defensive line coach. Exceptional job. It’s all game planning. You try to see how quarterbacks extend plays. They do it a lot of different ways. That’s something you look at. In the heat of the battle, it certainly is about discipline, people being in the right position to make plays. We’ll see how that plays out.