posted on November 26, 2012 10:11
COLLEGE STATION, TX -- Following a non-competitive 59-29 blowout by the Texas A&M Fighting Manziels, Gary Pinkel sat in a folding chair in the bowels of Kyle Field. There were no TV cameras in this makeshift studio -- the lights and glitz and glamour of the early season expectations long-since worn off. Instead, there were a few reporters who made the trip, asking questions in soft tones.
Pinkel sat, slouched in his chair. It was a different Gary Pinkel. No longer rigid and stone-faced, Pinkel was lucid and expansive in his thoughts. There was no off-topic rambling, taking one question before answering anything but. He coherently discussed the game, the season, remaining on-point. He seemed relaxed, at ease -- maybe even relieved.
That likely won't last long. For Pinkel, director of athletics Mike Alden and the rest of the big-shots within the athletic department, tough decisions will have to be made.
None of us should envy what that group of individuals have to decide.
There's plenty of rumors about Pinkel's job security. There are plenty of rumors about his assistants' job security. For fans and even most of the media, it's easy to say Missouri needs a new coach, or Pinkel needs a new staff. It's easy to say, "Thanks, Gary, we'll take it from here" to one of the most successful coaches in Missouri history.
But the reality of what lies ahead -- that's not easy.
There are consequences to every possible action that the program could take. Fire (or force out) a coach that rebuilt an almost non-existent program, and that will weigh in the back of the minds of any candidates considering an interview. One bad season in the last eight, and that's the breaking point? There's not much peace-of-mind for any coach willing to uproot his family and take a job in a different location.
What if Alden does indeed force Pinkel to make changes to his staff? Pinkel's track record on the football field is one of loyalty, and his staff today doesn't differ much from the staff that arrived with him in Columbia eleven years ago. The only departures have been for (at least arguably) better jobs, not firings. There's a strong possibility that any forced change by Alden will be met with backlash from Pinkel. Even if Pinkel acquiesces, that's a marriage doomed to fail. A new offensive or defensive coordinator that Pinkel didn't want in the first place? Who would even take that job?
After Saturday's loss, Pinkel said he's not opposed to changes -- with the kicking game, offense or defense. Missouri overhauled its offense once, following the 2004 season, and it could happen again. But, as he sat slouched in that Kyle Field backroom, he didn't sound like a coach ready or willing to overhaul his entire program, starting with his assistants and ending with a new identity.
And there's that third possibility. What if -- and it may be unlikely -- but what if there are no changes made? What if it's Pinkel and his staff, back for 2013? Then there may be the biggest consequence of them all:
Alienating a fan base that was publicly called out after the SEC move and exceeded expectations in support and in donations for an eventual 5-7 team. There's blood in the water, and it's churning and churning. Will the fans (and more importantly, those with the big checkbooks) come back in 2013 without a public sacrifice?
These are the real Xs and Os of Missouri's season. If 2012 was the most important season in Missouri history -- as Many Who Would Know have intimated -- then these next few months are the most important offseason in Missouri history. There will be big-time repercussions to whatever decision is made (or not made), consequences that will define this era of Missouri football.
Pinkel seemed relieved on Saturday, a disastrous season finally in the books. That relief may not last long.