I’ve always thought that when a football coach knows how to win, he doesn’t all of a sudden forget how to win. Sometimes work ethic and energy wane with age, and sometimes coaches start resting on their laurels, but if a winning coach maintains his energy and desire, he’s going to succeed. It’s been that way forever. Bear Bryant and Bud Wilkinson were great until they were done way back in the day. Tom Osborne and Barry Switzer didn’t forget how to coach. A guy like John Robinson started to mail it in after he came back from the NFL, clearly comfortable with what he had done earlier in his career. Now guys like Bob Stoops, Urban Meyer and Nick Saban are showing us that you can continue to win at one place, or if you move and you’re good, you are going to win at your new school, too.
That brings us to Gary Pinkel. There were a lot of observers that thought last year was reality for Mizzou, and this Pinkel should be on the hot seat. This despite the fact that he was 90-61 at Mizzou coming into the season, had won 163 games as a college coach, and dealt with an inordinate amount of injuries last season.
From 2006-2010, Mizzou was among the seven winningest programs in America, and Pinkel is the eighth winningest active coach. Sure, the Tigers don’t recruit with Alabama and LSU, and that’s part of what made last week’s win at Georgia and Mizzou’s 6-0 start so impressive.
Former Missouri radio analyst John Kadlec once pointed out to me that Pinkel does a great job of recruiting to his scheme. So even if they don’t wind up with a roster full of four and five star recruits, they get players that they can develop and coach up, that fit what they’re doing. That’s how they got such great production out of players like Danario Alexander, Chase Daniel, Sean Weatherspoon and William Moore, and now in the SEC are getting great play out of players such as Michael Sam, Andrew Wilson, Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Lucas, among others.
Georgia does get four and five star recruits up and down their roster. And even though they were missing some key players due to injury, the guys that were playing were highly recruited nationally. Pinkel’s Tigers dominated the Bulldogs. It wasn’t even a fight. And there weren’t injuries to Georgia’s linemen, which is primarily where Mizzou took charge and won the game.
Pinkel’s teams do things right. They’ve had a takeaway in 36 straight games, and so far this year only Oregon, at plus-10, has a greater turnover differential among BCS automatic qualifying teams than Mizzou’s plus-9, which is tied with Clemson. Mizzou is eighth in the country in scoring at 45.7 points a game, and they’re eleventh in total offense at more than 515 yards per game. The rush defense is 25th in the country, and since Mizzou is ahead so much, they’re pass defense lags.
In addition to the turnover differential, the Tigers are fourth in the SEC and tenth in the country in third down efficiency at almost 52 percent. They’re almost unstoppable in the red zone, scoring touchdowns on 24 of 32 trips beyond the opponent’s 20 yard line.
Without question, there are things they need to get better at. Despite allowing only 39 percent success rate on opponents third downs, the Tigers have allowed nineteen scores (12 touchdowns) on 22 opponent trips into the end zone. The pass defense is ranked 113th, which drops the team to 83rd in overall defense.
This week, with an injured quarterback James Franklin, the No. 14 Tigers host Florida. Redshirt freshman quarterback Matty Mauk makes his first start, and there’s a belief even among SEC insiders that Mizzou can win this game. They’ve already won at Vanderbilt and Georgia in the SEC, and they’re already bowl eligible halfway through the season.
That hot seat Pinkel was thought to be on before the season is quite comfortable now. He had injuries on the offensive line and at quarterback last season, and faced, according to the Sagarin index, the toughest schedule in all of college football. But last year wasn’t reality, it was the exception. Now he’s 6-0. Pinkel had a rough year last year, but he certainly didn’t forget how to coach. And as we’re seeing this year, he didn’t forget how to win.