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December 5, 2011

Pinkel on making the move to the SEC





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For the first time since Missouri announced it was moving to the Southeastern Conference, Gary Pinkel spoke with reporters about the switch on Sunday night. PowerMizzou.com was in on the discussion. Here is the transcript of the interview:

Q: How involved were you with Brady (Deaton) and the leadership throughout the process of the conference switch?

Gary Pinkel: "This whole thing came about right before we played Miami of Ohio. You guys probably know the story. This is what Mike relayed to me. On that Thursday before, our Chancellor took a vote from everybody, all the CEO's in the Big 12 and said they're absolutely in. The next day, a couple members of our conference come out and say that they're gonna look out for themselves. The same guys the day before said they were committed. They were gonna look for themselves and they were gonna consider joining the PAC-12. As we all know, that next Monday or Tuesday, is the University of Missouri going to be in the Big East, is the University of Missouri going to be in the Mountain West? All that stuff was spinning. We did that a year ago. We went through this whole thing a year ago. I think at that time the University administration said they had to do what's best for the University of Missouri. That was the defining moment for our Chancellor, which was the right thing to do. The Southeastern Conference wanted one team. They wanted the University of Missouri. They pursued us. As I've mentioned before, for example, talking to some people in Kansas City, where there's a lot of Kansas, Kansas State fans, I'm very understanding of the Big Eight, Big 12, all that stuff, the history that goes with that. But bottom line, this wasn't about Kansas or Kansas State. This wasn't about Gary Pinkel, this wasn't about Chancellor Deaton, this wasn't about Mike Alden. We separate ourselves and say 'What is the best direction the University of Missouri can take for the future?' They made a decision based on that. And there's no question about it, it was the right decision. Now did it make my life a little bit more difficult, adjustment-wise? Yeah, but they did the right thing for the University of Missouri. There's no question about it."

Q: There was an implication that you didn't want any part of this, that you were against it. I never got that feeling.

GP: "No. I don't know where that came from. My whole thing was, initially, from the very beginning, do you want the Big 12 to work? Yeah, I always wanted the Big 12 to work. What a great league that we had here. There's no question about it. No, no, no. Bottom line was, without question, when this incident came up and as it went, I talked to Brady in detail, I talked to obviously, Mike. When I talked to the Chancellor, he really wanted my views on this and I agreed with him. If we can't fix the Big 12-I mean fix it, we're the only league in the nation to have these battles going on all the time, you know, and all the other things we know that go on-if we can't fix it and be assured that it's going to work, then we've got to do what we've got to do. We've got to look out for what's best for the University of Missouri. That was it. I think it's like running a business, it's like running a company. I look at the 11 years I've been here. If you have problems and you don't fix them, it's going to implode eventually. And that's what happened. Why did Nebraska leave? Why did Colorado leave? Why did Texas A&M leave? Why did Missouri leave? The reason they left is cause they've got these problems that they never, never fixed. And that's the bottom line. That's what it is. It could have been fixed and it's sad because it could have been a great league. I was asked do you want the Big 12 to fall apart? Of course I want the Big 12 to be successful. Are you kidding me? Those schools there, there's no hard feelings in any way towards the Big 12. I want them to be successful. You want football to work in the Central United States and from Iowa all the way down to Texas. You want that to work. But I think anybody would look at it in the big picture and say there's still a huge question mark whether it's going to work. Time will tell. And again, I hope it does."

Q: Were there one or two things you think could have been fixed that would have done that, like the Longhorn Network?

GP: "You've got the Longhorn Network. You've got, a six-year agreement or a five-year agreement is absolutely nothing. We heard that last year. Didn't we hear that? We got the new TV contract and all of a sudden guess what, we're going to be together for 12 or however many years it was. People can buy out what they want to. I think, this is, I'm just throwing a number out to you, but if this is a 10 or 12-year agreement with huge amounts of money, then I think that's one (thing). But then you've got the Longhorn Network. We've got a lot of things. We didn't have the revenue sharing all these years, stuff that all these other leagues are doing, we don't do. You don't hear about any of this stuff in the other leagues. Monumental problems and nothing gets fixed. I don't think there's anybody what the University of Missouri initially wanted to do, I can't speak for Brady, we all wanted the Big 12 to work. But we clearly, after that defining moment that day, we understood, and again, we hope it does work, but we had to do what's best for Mizzou."

Q: So much vitriol has been directed at Missouri since the SEC announcement…How do you react to that?

GP: "First of all, I think, you know, we all have to be professional about this, okay. That's what I think we all have to do. I think as emotions calm, we'll be like Georgia-Georgia Tech, who play in different leagues. I can go on and on, different schools. To me, it's a choice. It's real simple. It's a choice. Do you want this to continue? The University of Missouri does. Why would we not? Why would we not? If they choose not to, then we won't, but hopefully when things calm down, they'll understand that we can keep these traditions going and it's a great tradition. That is simply a matter of choice. Do you want to do it or do you not want to do it? There's no reason on earth why they can't do it. There's no reason on earth why we can't do it."

Q: Obviously you're able to be very focused on your season, but how hard was it, such a monumental thing to deal with this hovering over you while you were getting ready? And then, where do you even start, really, beyond the recruiting thing, with your own analysis and transition?

GP: "Honestly, I was removed from this quite a bit. It was an administrative decision. I gave my opinion when they asked me certain things about the move as I expressed earlier. So I gave an opinion on a lot of different things. But, ultimately, they didn't call me every three days, do you want to do this? It was an administrative decision of what was best for the University of Missouri at that time. And I really compliment Chancellor Deaton for the way he handled this. First-class is the way he did it. I kept asking our players if this affected their focus. For the most part they said it didn't. For the younger players who are going to be here-the seniors, it wouldn't affect them obviously-but to say it didn't affect them in any way, that probably was not true. It probably did a little bit. But we didn't ever talk about it. I asked the seniors, do you hear guys talk about it in the locker room, should I address it with the team? I think I did one time, but other than that, we didn't really address it.

One thing in the discussions a little bit with the possibility of this league change, that I discussed with the Chancellor and Mike Alden was if we're going to do this, I want to be significant in doing this. The league is different than the Big 12. The commitment is different, overall, than the Big 12. And if you're going to make a move like this, then you're going to have to invest. That's what I want. If you're not going to invest, I don't want to really be a part of it. That's facilities, that's recruiting budgets, that's commitment that it's gonna take to be a player in this league. I didn't want to go over and just say, 'We're in the Southeastern Conference, let's try to go win some games.' The University of Missouri's got an opportunity now, they've got a chance now to change Mizzou football forever. This is the shot. This is our shot. And there's a lot of great things historically that have happened here, but this is our shot. And that's what we're going to try to do."

Q: How much effort is it going to take, monetarily? What will happen with the stadium, recruiting budget?

GP: "There's a lot of areas that you look at, but first of all, the thing you look at is facilities. We've got good facilities, but you don't walk in and say these are good facilities. Where do they fit in facilities overall in that league? Bottom line is we're going to make some significant changes. And that's good, we have to. This is our shot. This is a great position that we're in to do this. That's got to be done. As far as recruiting budget, we'll have no problem at all to take care of that."

Q: How much of a switch is it in recruiting? Eventually do you have the mass of recruiting effort in SEC country that you have in Texas now?

GP: "First of all, this is like a transition year a little bit too. What happened is, when we got all our players committed, they were intending to go to the Big 12. All of a sudden, now, we're going to a new league. We understood, too, it was going to be a transition this year. We understand that. I think also, as we went down, when I went down and shook hands with Texas, I was from Toledo, Ohio. I don't even know if guys knew where Toledo was, you know, when we started shaking hands down there. They had recruited Texas before, but not like we did. It turned out to be very significant for us. That's the same thing when I'll be going to Atlanta two weeks from now. I'll be going down and start shaking hands and let's get going and start introducing ourselves. The one difference is, when we started shaking hands in Texas, there were two winning seasons in 18 years. Now, we're going to seven bowls in a row, eight bowls in nine. It's marketing, it's commercials, it's billboards, it's mailings we send out. It's all these things, we have a marketing plan in place right now. I met last week with some people at the University to get that done. And so the recruiting itself, there will be a transition that takes place. We've done analysis of every BCS player in every county in every state in this country. I'll use Atlanta for example. How many guys leave Atlanta to go play in the BCS? How many guys leave Atlanta to play in the BCS outside their state? We can go on and on. We've got all this data. We just didn't go in and say, 'Hey, gosh, they've got some people there, let's just put some players in there.' This is all based on information that we've had, studies we've had done, analysis we had done by some of our people. Just like we eventually put a lot of coaches in Texas because that was the right thing to do, we'll tweak this as we go. Not that this is going to be set exactly the way it is. Obviously, there's nothing more important to us than the state of Missouri. Texas is going to be our number one alumni area in the nation outside the state of Missouri is Dallas. So we will always be in Dallas, we'll always be in Houston. But we also know that this gives you an opportunity to get into other parts of the SEC. The North part of Florida, the panhandle, Tampa, through Orlando into Jacksonville, certainly Atlanta and South Georgia. There's a lot of players there and it's about evaluating well and going in. There's a marketing phase of it, there's a decision what coaches are going to go in there, how we're going to do that. It's going to be a lot of hard work, that part, but still Missouri hasn't changed. Texas hasn't changed in terms of our connections and who we know and the reputation we've built there. It's just a matter of going into those other areas. Josh Henson, for example, he's in an area he's been in before. Everybody knows Josh. Again, the product's a little bit different. In the last six years, after this year, we'll have graduated 96 percent of our players. We win at Mizzou, we graduate our athletes and so there's a little bit more firepower when we go in there. I think there's some respect for our program."

Q: You keep the program intact, but is there any aspect of this that almost feels like you're starting a new job all over?

GP: "No, not really. Just the recruiting. The infrastructure's here and my staff's been with me a long time. You just adjust in recruiting. We did the same thing, we adjusted recruiting when we first got here. We had coaches in Florida recruiting, we had guys in Chicago and, you know, you tweak it and move it around a little bit. I think what you do is you earn trust. There's no question about it that you have to earn trust. There's one way to do it is just treating people right, all my coaches when they're out recruiting and the biggest thing you can do is have your players go back and tell their coaches back at their school, 'Mizzou's the greatest place in the world and that's the best decision I've ever made.' That's how we did this. That is going to take time. You don't just walk in and say, except there is much more name recognition for Mizzou than there was 11 years ago when we went down to Texas."

Q: Style of play in the SEC versus style of play in the Big 12, is that going to be a transition for you guys?

GP: "We're going to do what we do, but I think we certainly have to, for example we're on top, certainly, of all the offensive and defensive schemes in our league, year in and year out. You know the teams pretty good. That will be a jump analysis. We'll jump on that a lot quicker, right when recruiting's over, assigning different coaches different schools and that's kind of their expert school that they have. On schemes, we have to recognize the conference is considered a very physical league and we understand that. We're still going to run our offense, but still, like anything, sometimes we tweak. We do different things offensively and defensively and we'll have to look at that."

Q: You talk a lot about what Missouri has to do, but what's incumbent upon your fanbase with the move and is part of your job this offseason communicating that to fans and donors?

GP: "I think there's a little bit of that. I think our fans want greatness and what goes with greatness is commitment. Commitment from everybody. It's your fanbase. Again, this is our chance to step it up. Financial contributions, what do you want to be? This is the chance. What do you want Mizzou to be? And there's an investment that has to be made if you want to reap the benefits. Quite frankly, the only reason I did this is I was told I was going to get this kind of commitment from the University."

Q: Do you like the Eastern division? Does it matter to you?

GP: "Well, traditionally, if you look over a 20-year period of time, there's a lot of teams that have won in that. Tennessee, Florida, I can go on and on, Georgia. But right now, with the situation it is, it's a really good league. It's kind of like our league was this year. You've got to strap it on and you've got to have it every week. I like the way it's designed. We play all six teams in our division, then our rival game is gonna be Texas A&M which is real important because it's in Texas for us year in, year out, that's really, really important to us. I think that's a real plus for us. Then the way they do the other way, you go home and away for the other six teams for a 12-year period of time. So I may not even see some of those other places."

Q: Have you talked to Nick (Saban)?

GP: "No, I haven't talked to Nick. He's going through a lot so I'll talk to him later. Les Miles, I am friends with Les. We did a lot, I kind of sat with him when he was in this league, so you know, great coaches. Steve Spurrier, I've had a relationship with him since we played them in our bowl game. They have a lot of great coaches. This league, it's obviously a good league. To continue about the way it's set up, we have four non-conference games and I think that's real important too. This league, when you get in league play, I mean, strap it on. To be able to schedule is real, real important and I think they got it right there."

Q: Mike has said they want to play a game in Kansas City. If it's not KU, do you have any preferences?

GP: "The good news is since I got here Mike and I worked hand in hand next to each other on the scheduling. As you all know I've always called it intelligent scheduling that you do the right things. And we'll continue to do those kind of things. I think the KU game, I think if you match it like the Illinois game where it's the same type situation, we play in the first game or the second game every year, you play it in Kansas City if that's where they want to play the game and both teams record-wise, you're undefeated or you've lost or you've won one game and enthusiasm, excitement of all the fans is at pitch level. We've seen that work in St. Louis. And that's our rival game. I think it's, why would you not do it?...Someone asked me if they come in with a new job, a new coach, I think it's the fourth coach since I've been here. And they said, well, why would they want to play you right now? And I said it's still a choice. If they're fifth in the nation three years from now, you still play. You go up and play. I just think people have to calm themselves a little bit. You guys tell me why you wouldn't play. Because you're mad? You know, let's be a little bit more professional than that."

Q: These months are usually tied up so much in bowl preparation and recruiting. For you personally, are you still doing the same things now that you would any year or how much do you and the staff have to spend your time thinking about the transition?

GP: "I think, again, we're getting some coaches in those other areas, but you also have to take care of the existing players and where we're at. So that's a little bit of a transition. I don't look for it to be real difficult. I maybe shouldn't say it that way. Like anything, we know what we do, we know what our program is, our system's in place and it's just a matter of marketing yourself. I think the marketing side of it's really, really important. Again, we're looking at a lot of different areas there. That's one area of the investment part that's needed to be able to market ourselves."

Q: One of the big questions is can Missouri compete in the SEC. And there are a lot of people in the Big 12 that insist you can't.

GP: "Yeah, well, that's all, everybody's going to have opinions on that. You've got to go prove yourself. I don't have a problem doing that. It's part of what you do."

If you would like to listen to the interview, click here for the audio.

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