The first of three coaches speaking today, Missouri's Gary Pinkel just wrapped up his media session. The major takeaways:
* Perhaps the most informative, impressive session so far. Pinkel answered everything that was thrown at him. While his personality lack effervescence, he even opened by joking with the media that "you'll be down here for two weeks" if the league expands again.
* Quarterback Maty Mauk was the early focus of the session with Pinkel saying of last year's situation: "The bad news is we lost our starting quarterback (James Franklin) for four games. The good news is we had a redshirt freshman come in and play at a really high level." Mauk's experience last season should benefit him in 2014, obviously. Pinkel said his signal-caller is "just a very natural leader" in "a positive way." He also referred to his dual-threat style and said, "He can put a lot of pressure on a defense."
* Mizzou's coach does not want everything riding on his quarterback, however. He pointed out that the Tigers lost three quality wideouts -- and he wished dismissed receiver Dorial Green-Beckham well in his future -- but they do have three SEC-caliber running backs. "We can use running backs and tight ends as receivers. In August, our challenge is to settle on which personnel groups" to use once the season starts. Regarding Green-Beckham specifically, Pinkel said, "You can lose a really great player in August" and have less time to plan for it. "Multiple use of personnel" will be key to replacing the dismissed wideout as you don't "have to replace a receiver with a receiver."
* Pinkel was asked about not playing Texas A&M again until 2021 and how that will impact recruiting. "Arkansas is going to be a great fit for us," he said. Adding, "We certainly support" the SEC's scheduling format. Perhaps. But he judging by his quick answer, his slight dodge of the question and his facial expression, the coach isn't thrilled to be losing access to a recruiting pipeline that has served his program well over the past decade.
* Pinkel said that he wants Missouri to be respected in the SEC and nationally. He also made it clear that he feels MU owes that to the SEC, which is such a powerhouse league. He added that respect comes not just from winning games but with from having good graduation rates and high APR scores, as is the case in Columbia.
* Asked about the rewards of winning the East, Mizzou's coach said it's been "tremendously positive" and that it's helped recruiting, especially coming off a 5-7 2012 season in which his team was plagued by injuries. Here, Pinkel opened up a bit more. "It was not the injuries or all those other things. It was we were not very good and we shouldn't be in the SEC... If I'd have done a better job coaching we could have won one more game and gone to a bowl in 2012 and I didn't do a good enough job." Candid.
* After forcing 32 turnovers in 2013 and finishing plus-16 on the season, Pinkel revealed that turnovers are a major emphasis for his team. Pinkel said that he doesn't care about many stats, but he wants Mizzou to finish in the top 10 nationally every year in turnover margin because no stat means more in terms of winning and losing games.
* On the structure of the SEC -- with Missouri in the East Division -- Pinkel said "it's a great fit." He pointed out how well SEC fans travel and then praised Tiger fans for understanding "this is a step up," and traveling well themselves. Also regarding the league, Pinkel pointed out that Missouri is doing its part to keep up with the Joneses. "If you drive by and don't see cranes up (at an SEC school), something's wrong." He says his advice when MU was considering a move to the league was as follows: "If you're not committed to investing then don't get in the league because it'll swallow you up." Missouri has invested millions in a renovation projects across its campus.
* Pinkel had two points he clearly wanted to make at this year's Media Days. The first: We don't care about recruiting rankings. "In the last seven years we're the eighth winningest BCS program in the country. If you took our recruiting rankings they would probably be somewhere between 28 and 32 on average. Something's wrong there. I think our recruiting process is different. We have a system we believe in. And I think our player development program is second to none. We call it 'Mizzou Made.'" When Missouri entered the SEC, you might recall that we said the school's immediate football success would hinge on Pinkel's system. Knowing he lived off 2- and 3-star recruits, we questioned whether or not his system would be Bobby Petrino-esque in terms of getting more out of prospects than recruiting experts would think. Winning the East Division and going 12-2 in his second season answered that question.
* The second point the coach wanted to make was that fast-pace offenses are safe as can be. Pinkel said that in all his years in the Big 12 -- where up-tempo offenses have been the norm -- he'd never had a team doctor or trainer come to him and say, "I'm worried about the health of our football team. It's never happened. Ever." Pinkel says the trendy up-temp style is just another form of football. "I don't buy the health issue in anyway. I think it's fiction." Cue: Nick Saban and Bret Bielema.
* It was revealed this week by Will Muschamp that Pinkel reached out to him last year as the Gator season turned ugly. Asked about his motivation, Pinkel simply said that he'd had coaches reach out to him during hard times -- likely in 2012 -- and that it helped him. So, he in turn, passed it on to Muschamp. Downright Mark Richt-ish.
* Pinkel only fielded one question about Michael Sam but he said he was proud of how everyone at Missouri handled the matter. He also said he hopes that in five years from now, people won't worry about such things. Ditto.