Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Pinkel’s Problem

Mizzou Sanity’s been in existence for a hair over six months now (First post: February 19), and we’ve begun the process of networking. I’ve found some pretty strong blogs—a lot of them belonging to SB Nation...enough to where I’ve dipped my toe into the water to see about joining SB Nation ourselves—and have begun linking to some. Now, it’s not good to possibly burn a bridge before it’s even built, but...I can’t resist...it’s time for some trash talk.

Define irony: a Nebraska fan making fun of Georgia fans for foolishly thinking their school is a national power.


Also...from that same post...this one's not quite as witty:

Sam “Jesus” Keller is not a Heisman candidate. He just isn’t.

Alright, all other trash talk will wait until the season has started. I’m scarred enough by previous sporting failures to know that the Sports God hates me, and I’d like to avoid any excess wrath. That, and I'm no dummy...I realize that Nebraska owns historical trash talking rights. And beyond that, I suck at trash talk. I’ll leave that to others.

Anyway, the Corn Nation post above, and a similar one at Barking Carnival (which, by the way, is a very humorous site when they’re making fun of teams you dislike...just check out this K-State writeup...hilarious AND equally racist across all racial and ethnic boundaries) point to a hardened perception among fans of other schools (and a ton of Mizzou fans to boot) that Gary Pinkel is not a good coach...in particular, he’s a decent recruiter and a horrendous gameday coach. From Barking Carnival:

Gary Pinkel (37-35 in Columbia) has a reputation as a bit of a bonehead and a poor game manager, but that’s what they said about Lee Corso at Indiana and he’s on television now. So don’t listen to the critics. I think he and Bill Callahan may cancel each other out here. Let’s just hope he’s not outwitted by that slick fox Mangino. Similarly, he should remove any snacks secreted in his jacket pockets before the post-game handshake as Mangino will pin him down, sniff them out with his moist, probing nose, and feast on them, wrapper and all, while contentedly cooing and rendering soft belly pats.
A different Corn Nation post also predicts that Pinkel is somehow the most likely coach in the conference to get fired.

I can point out all the different ways that this overriding perception is unfair—and trust me, I almost spent 1,000 words doing exactly that—but there’s really no point at this stage in the game. The bottom line is, despite the fact that Mizzou has improved in five of six seasons under Pinkel, the one season they didn’t (2004) has defined Gary Pinkel’s tenure to this point. And it will continue to do so until Mizzou overachieves in the same way they underachieved that year. Simply exceeding handicapped expectations isn’t enough.

If you haven’t noticed, Mizzou’s exceeded expectations each of the last two seasons (and really, in four of the last five). The 2005 Tigers were picked by most to crash and burn and quietly finish off the Pinkel Regime. They lost to New Mexico and Kansas in beyond-aggravating fashion, but thanks to some Chase Daniel magic against Iowa State and some Brad Smith magic against South Carolina, they finished 7-5. At the beginning of the season, 7-5 would have been a welcome bounceback to 2004. At the end of 2005, 7-5 seemed disappointing.

In 2006, Mizzou was picked preseason #5 in the North. They were supposed to struggle to make a bowl game while turning the page on the Brad Smith era. As I’ve pointed out, the Sporting News picked them to lose to Ole Miss at home. Well, they went 8-5, exceeding preseason expectations...and it felt a bit disappointing. In other words, Gary Pinkel’s teams are experts at exceeding expectations in the most disappointing way possible, even going back to 2002 (predicted to suck, but Brad Smith emerged...and went 5-7) or 2003 (8-5 was quite a lovely step forward, but it still came with super-annoying losses at Colorado and Kansas). Mizzou flashes more potential than others thought they had, then pulls a Lucy Van Pelt (or, I guess, a Tony Romo) with the football.

Pinkel needs to win and win big in 2007. Not necessarily because he’ll get fired otherwise (it would probably take a 5-7 season for that to happen, possibly 6-6) and not necessarily because Nebraska is about to distance itself from the rest of the North. I’ll believe that when I see it (how are the four Heismans for Harrison Beck and Marlon Lucky coming along?). No, he needs to win big because, as I’ve mentioned before, we’re one or two steps away from the dreaded Glen Mason Territory, where a coach at a mid-level school establishes his program enough to go 7-5 every year but never turns a corner. To me, 7-5 this year is the worst-case scenario because he won’t get fired, but he’ll have missed another opportunity to turn a corner and prove himself to future recruits.

That, and he needs to win because this year’s team is the most talented Missouri team in 25 years. Chase Daniel > Brad Smith and Corby Jones. Tony Temple > any Mizzou RB since Devin West. Will Franklin, Danario Alexander, Jared Perry, Jeremy Maclin, etc. > any Mizzou WR corps I’ve ever seen. All-world TE Chamartin Ruffman > Kellen Winslow (combined, not individually...and yes, Barking Carnival, Coffman and Rucker are as good as people say...in fact, the ‘lazy media’ is why Martellus “Rivals 5-star” Bennett is being rated above either or both of them in most publications despite all on-field evidence to the contrary).

Yes, the defense will be the team’s Achilles heel. That’s obvious. But the defense just has to be competent, and a defense with Darnell Terrell, Brock Christopher, Lorenzo Williams, Ziggy Hood, and William Moore on it has no excuse not to be at least that. Great? Not with the question marks at DE. Competent? Yes.

For the last three years, I’ve constantly defended Gary Pinkel from attack...mostly from Mizzou fans. Which is funny, because I still have no idea if he’s a great coach or just a pretty decent one. As I’ve said before, he’s extremely classy, and he does everything the exact way I want a coach of my school to do...other than win big. Now it’s time for him to check that one off the list as well.