Pinkel in and out of the hot seat

Missouri's Gary Pinkel had a rough season in the Tigers' debut season in the SEC, but his team has turned it around with a 6-0 start.

Doug Finger/Staff Photographer
Published: Thursday, October 17, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, October 16, 2013 at 7:31 p.m.

This is the way it goes with hot seats. They warm up when things are at their worst and the next thing you know the same guy that was being run out of town is a coach of the year candidate.

Gary Pinkel knows all about it even if he doesn't want to talk about the miseries of last season.

“That was last year,” he said Wednesday. “It is what it is. It's just a different year.”

You would understand if he followed that with a “Thank God.”

Because last year wasn't fun for the Missouri coach. In fact, it was a pretty miserable 13 months for Pinkel.

First, there was a DWI in November of 2011 when Pinkel was pulled over in Columbia and uttered a phrase that ranks right up there with, “Don't tase me, bro.” Asked to perform a field sobriety test by a police officer, he said, “You kidding? I can't do that normally.”

The dashboard camera video went viral, a contrite Pinkel was suspended for a game and had his salary frozen for a year.

Then came his first season coaching in the SEC and Missouri looked like the poster team for how difficult it was in the uber-conference. The Tigers went 5-7, 2-6 in the conference. On top of the struggles on the field, Pinkel went through a divorce during the season.

All you need to know about why Pinkel was on the hot seat was that the four other SEC teams that didn't make a bowl game fired their coaches.

In this world of microwave football, it didn't seem to matter that Pinkel had turned Mizzou from a program that had 14 losing seasons in the 16 seasons before he arrived into an annual bowl team. It didn't matter that his quarterback was hurting for most of the season and he had only one offensive lineman who started every game.

All that mattered was that he was on the hot seat, the mythical place where coaches go before they're unemployed or reborn. Those coaches don't always have a choice which it will be.

“We didn't do anything different than we've ever done,” Pinkel said.

Still, here is Missouri with a big game against Florida in a battle of ranked teams. The loss of quarterback James Franklin has dampened some of the enthusiasm, and nobody is foolish enough to think the guts of the schedule aren't still on the horizon.

But as we sit here today, Missouri — not Florida, not Georgia, not South Carolina — is the only unbeaten team in the SEC East and the Tigers sit atop the standings.

“I don't look at the standings,” said the 61-year-old Pinkel. “I'm just focusing on Florida.”

It's no secret why Missouri has run off wins in its first six games. Until Franklin's injury, the Tigers had been healthy. And against Georgia, they started 11 seniors.

“That's a lot of reps,” said Florida coach Will Muschamp. “That's a lot of guys who have taken a lot of snaps.

“(Missouri's season) doesn't shock me at all.”

Pinkel has said in the past that he received great advice from his mentor Don James about putting your head down and doing your job when the flames start to reach thigh level. He knew that the injuries were too much to overcome and that his team was only a handful of plays against Vandy, Florida and Syracuse from being 8-4 and enjoying some Florida sun during bowl season.

Instead, the warmth of this offseason came from websites, bloggers and fan message boards. Pinkel, who can be irascible at times with the media, knew that he had a group of seniors who would not allow 5-7 to happen again.

“It's a special group of players,” he said. “Last year was the first time we lost in eight or nine years. They wanted to get back to winning. The leadership has been great. I'm proud of them as a group.”

Now, we'll see what their resolve is like with their leader down for three-to-five weeks. But there is no doubting Pinkel's.

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