COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Like most football lifers, Missouri coach Gary Pinkel is a creature of habit.
So rather than linger over a disappointing SEC debut that saw the Tigers go 5-7 and break a seven-year streak of bowl appearances, the 60-year-old coach showed up ready for work on Monday, starting with his usual 5 a.m. weightlifting session.
“I love what I do,” Pinkel told reporters Tuesday, quickly dispelling rumors of his pending retirement or even a change by his bosses. “I couldn’t wait to get into work.”
Pinkel said he has no plans to make dramatic changes to the team’s once-prolific spread offense or other schemes and will retain his entire coaching staff, most of whom have been by his side for years. That doesn’t mean more modest modifications aren’t in order.
“I embrace the foundation of our program when things get tough,” he said. “But then, we evaluate every single thing we do here, all the time, always. That’s never changed.”
The season began with high expectations for Missouri, which left the Big 12 Conference for the Southeastern Conference in hopes of building a national brand, gaining more long-term stability and reaping more TV revenue riches.
Instead, the coach’s 12th season in Columbia turned into one of his most trying, from lopsided losses to SEC powers Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina, to off-field challenges such as the early season drug arrests of several freshmen players, and Pinkel’s divorce from his wife of nearly 40 years.
Faced with a shot to salvage the season with a .500 record and another bowl bid, Missouri fell flat in its final game, a 59-29 loss at Texas A&M — another Big 12 refugee — that saw the Aggies open a 42-0 lead late in the first half.
Missouri’s only conference wins in eight tries came against Kentucky and Tennessee, two schools that wound up firing their coaches.
Pinkel’s comments were largely measured on Tuesday, with the coach who normally wears Mizzou workout gear instead dressed in a suit and tie for a friend’s funeral later in the day.
He was more open with his disappointment one night earlier, telling a statewide radio audience during his final weekly coach’s show that the subpar season “just destroys me personally.”
He offered qualified support for junior quarterback James Franklin, who missed all or parts of nearly half the team’s games with shoulder and ankle injuries and a late-season concussion.
His replacement, redshirt freshman Corbin Berkstresser, was erratic, but both played behind an offensive line wracked by injuries.
The third-string quarterback, highly touted recruit Maty Mauk, took a redshirt and didn’t play this season
“Quarterback is no different position for us than any other,” Pinkel said. “The best player plays. There’s no pecking order. Everybody will have an opportunity to win the job.”
On defense, Pinkel seemed fairly certain that defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson will not return for his senior season, calling the mercurial lineman who missed a narrow home loss to Syracuse for violating team rules a likely first-round pick in the NFL draft.
“If I was a betting man, I’d think he’s going to go,” Pinkel said.
And while Pinkel didn’t discuss next season’s opponents, Missouri has a more forgiving 2013 schedule than in its inaugural SEC campaign, with home games against Murray State, Toledo, Florida, South Carolina , Tennessee and Texas A&M and road trips to Indiana, Vanderbilt, Georgia, Kentucky and Mississippi.