COLUMBIA, Mo. • In the wake of Mizzou’s first losing season since 2004, a regression that coincided with its Southeastern Conference debut, MU coach Gary Pinkel said Monday that he is raring to begin spring practice today.
“I think there’s kind of a relief. You get to go work and do something about it,” he said, adding, “It was difficult. And it should be. But you get back to work.”
In a 45-minute interview in his office, Pinkel touched on everything from the implications of having a new offensive coordinator to opening up the quarterback job to his cautious optimism about the return of tailback Henry Josey to whether he is infused with a renewed sense of urgency.
“If you’re a competitor, which I am, I don’t need anybody to tell me or suggest in any way the importance of going to a bowl game,” he said. “Shoot. I’m driven, man.”
Smiling, he added, “I’m saying more prayers this year: It would be nice if we could stay healthy, because your team could remarkably change. But we’re all faced with that.”
Ravaged by injuries to the offensive line and starting quarterback James Franklin, MU was 5-7 overall and 2-6 in SEC play, and in league play was 11th in the 14-team league in four vital categories: scoring offense (21.9 points a game); scoring defense (33.0); total offense (334.6 yards a game); and total defense (408.2).
After the season, offensive coordinator David Yost resigned. But Pinkel reiterated that the decision was made by Yost, who had been with Pinkel since 1996 at Toledo and also was recruiting coordinator and kicking coach.
Pinkel suggested he felt a void the first few weeks without Yost, who later took a job coaching receivers at Washington State.
“I did everything I could to convince him to stay, and at the end of the day it was the right thing for him,” said Pinkel, who was asked whether Yost had been burdened by so many responsibilities: “Just (from) a couple comments he made to people, maybe he didn’t delegate enough. …
“And maybe I should have been a little bit more pro-active with him, you know, passing different things around, divide them up to different people. Delegating.”
Those duties are more divided now.
Co-offensive line coach Josh Henson was promoted to offensive coordinator, and receivers coach Andy Hill will coach quarterbacks. Nick Otterbacher has taken over as recruiting coordinator after gradually assuming more responsibilities there.
To what degree those decisions mean schematic offensive changes is unclear – and, no, Pinkel said, closing all but the cosmetic parts of spring practice doesn’t mean MU will be making radical changes it doesn’t want seen.
“That’s building way too much into it,” said Pinkel, saying the change was made after a discussion of conforming more to media policies around the SEC.
As for what Mizzou will be building?
“We’re still going to run the spread offense. We’ll do some things different. … But we’re still going to be who we are in terms of that,” he said, adding, “You can’t have the success that we had on offense all those years and have a bad year, considering all the people we lost, then all of a sudden say, ‘This doesn’t work, it’s not very good.’ I think (Texas) A&M has proved … you can run a spread offense in this league and be successful.”
But Pinkel said MU probably would attach tight ends to the line of scrimmage more often, consider more play-action passing and reduce the number of empty backfield sets.
“So we’re looking at a lot of different little things to see if we like them and if (they) can fit for us,” he said.
Another question of fit will be at quarterback, where Franklin enjoyed a strong sophomore season that entrenched him as the starter for 2012.
But a series of injuries forced him out of three full games and parts of several others, and Franklin’s productivity plummeted – leaving open to question to what degree his season reflected the injuries and to what degree he was simply less effective in the SEC.
“In this situation, without what I call … (an) ‘established’ quarterback, we’ll pretty much go with those top three guys (Franklin, sophomore Corbin Berkstresser and redshirt freshman Maty Mauk) and just have even reps … and just keep rolling them right through,” Pinkel said.
Incoming freshmen Trent Hosick and Eddie Printz won’t immediately get as many reps, but Pinkel said, “You kind of just show what you do, and then you get more reps as time goes on.”
He added, “The competition is going to be obviously all spring long. … What I’m going to do is what I’ve always done in these situations, which is let the players determine how it turns out … and make sure there’s a real balance there in how you evaluate them.”
Also uncertain but buoyed by recent good news is the status of Josey, who was averaging 8.1 yards a carry in 2011 before suffering a devastating knee injury against Texas.
Last week, Pinkel said, Josey ran the 40-yard dash in 4.44 seconds.
“I thought if he got 4.58, 4.6, I’d be happy, then he’d dwindle it down,” he said, adding, “So what a remarkable story about a remarkable kid. So that’s where he is. I could go on and on about him. I love that kid.”
Pinkel acknowledged it can’t be known how sturdy Josey’s knee is until he plays, but he also gushed about how Josey has performed in drills involving change of direction and stopping and starting.
Regarding his own future, Pinkel, who will turn 61 in April, said he’s given no thought to how much longer he wants to coach.
“I feel as good as I did when I was 40,” said Pinkel, who is 90-61 at MU. “And I love doing this. I love the players. And I have a responsibility here.”
With a laugh, he added, “What, are you trying to get rid of me?”
As for the season ahead, he added, “Am I excited about this year? That’s an understatement. I’m driven to be successful. …
“If you’re a competitor and you don’t accomplish your goals, you come back and you brush yourself off and you battle.”