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November 28, 2012

Powered Up: Pinkel turns up heat on himself

For weeks, people have asked me if changes need to be made on Missouri's coaching staff. For weeks, I've sidestepped the question.

It isn't my decision to make. I don't watch game film or analyze things enough to know whether the problems Missouri had this season were due to the scheme, the play calls or the players simply not doing their jobs. I'm just being honest. I don't know.

Only one person's opinion on that question matters and he gave it on Tuesday morning. Asked whether he expected his entire staff to be back for the 2013 season, Gary Pinkel said, "Yeah, I do."

"My philosophy has always been that hiring the wrong person does not destroy your business. What destroys your business is keeping that person in your organization. That's basic principle," he continued. "I will never have anybody working for us that's not good enough to be here. That's the priority of our football program. There's nothing personal here, never has been. That's what I do in analysis of all our personnel in our entire program. I see a lot of coaches around the country, for years I watch it happen, and for years before I was a head coach, that have tough years and just start firing guys and firing guys. One year they're a good coach and the next year they're not and the walk around and they made the big change to help their program. I'm not throwing a guy out, I won't do it. If a guy's not good enough, he's gone. That's how I do things and that's since the day I was a head coach that way. I've fired several coaches when I was at Toledo. If that's necessary I would do that, but I don't anticipate that happening."

So there's the answer. Whether I think staff changes should be made (or whether the people reading this do, the guy that sits in section BB does or the lady that screams curse words at the TV does) doesn't really matter. It appears right now that those changes aren't happening.

Pinkel believes he has the right coaches in place. And he might be right. It is my opinion he has done enough at the University of Missouri to get the chance to prove he is. Pinkel isn't the greatest coach in school history. But he's good. He did what nobody could do here for 25 years, which is win consistently.

His detractors will argue he won because of Chase Daniel, he won because of a weak Big 12 North, he won because he scheduled automatic non-conference wins. Whatever. The point is, he won. If it was easy, someone would have done it sooner.

So Pinkel has earned a chance to prove that this year ("one bad year" as he called it) was an aberration. I don't side with those that say Mike Alden should force changes. Alden hired Pinkel to run the football program. If you don't trust him to have the right coaches in place, then you fire Pinkel. You don't tell him he can cook the meal but he has to follow your recipe. He's the chef. He gets to make it the way he wants. If it tastes bad, you find a new chef.

I don't really have strong opinions on whether Pinkel has the right staff in place. I don't know. What I do have a strong opinion about is this: With Tuesday's declarations that everyone would be back and he would not shuffle responsibilities among current coaches, Pinkel took the focus off his assistants and put it squarely on himself entering the 2013 season.

I said above Pinkel has earned the right to have an off year. And he has. But he hasn't earned the right to have as many as he wants until he rides off into the sunset. If he'd won a league title, he'd earn another bad year. If he'd won a national title, he could probably drive the program straight into the ground without many consequences. But he hasn't. He's earned the right to step back, but not the right to fall down.

So, entering next year, I think Pinkel has put himself in the crosshairs. He coaches in a league that just fired a man who won the national title two years ago. The team that entered that league with Missouri (and by most estimations did so significantly behind Missouri as a program) just won ten games, beat the nation's unbeatable team and is about to watch its quarterback win the Heisman Trophy. Fans showed up, donors gave money and Pinkel even said he "couldn't be more pleased with the transition to the SEC, all the things that we've talked about doing."

Last summer, Pinkel challenged everyone associated with Missouri football to step up his game. The fans did. The boosters did. The administration did. And now Pinkel has to.

Pinkel is the boss. Firing the second-in-command isn't usually a recipe for righting the ship of a company on shaky ground. That falls on the CEO. He has said over and over he is responsible for every single thing that goes on in this program.

It is Pinkel's decision to bring back the same staff, the same scheme, the same approach that led to this 5-and-7 season. He made a similarly unpopular decision following the 2004 season and the best run in school history ensued.

Maybe it will happen again. But if a big step forward doesn't happen in 2013, it won't be the assistant coaches' heads fans want on a platter.

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