During Missouri football coach Gary Pinkel’s 22 seasons as a head coach, he has never had a starting quarterback held out by as many injuries as senior James Franklin suffered in 2012.
“I never lost a starting quarterback for a game or two at all,” Pinkel said. “That was very unusual for us. Our last three quarterbacks are playing in the NFL. James had more injuries than I think any I've ever had combined.”
Missouri football got its second crack at Southeastern Conference media days Tuesday, and Pinkel used the time to speak about Missouri’s disappointing introduction to its new conference and its outlook at the upcoming season.
The overarching message: avoid the injury bug and fight through the growing pains of entering the nation’s premier football conference.
“I don’t think our record was any indication of how well we competed least year,” senior receiver L’Damian Washington said. He, Franklin and senior linebacker Andrew Wilson accompanied Pinkel to Birmingham, Ala. for the event.
“I think four games came down to the wire. If you were to eliminate a turnover here or capitalize on a turnover there, we’re easily a 9-4 team compared to a 5-7 team.”
After missing a bowl game for the first time since 2004, Pinkel indicated that last season might not have been a realistic measure of the program to SEC fans. The Tigers lost five of their 10 offensive linemen and their starting quarterback, Pinkel said.
“We still had a chance to overcome it,” he said. “I'm paid to overcome anything that happens to us.”
With all of the injuries, Pinkel had to scramble to fill in the depth chart, especially when it came to the quarterback position. Sophomore Corbin Berkstresser started four games and took a majority of the snaps against Vanderbilt in place of injured junior quarterback James Franklin, who started every game in 2011.
Franklin, Berkstresser and redshirt freshman Maty Mauk are locked in a three-way battle over the summer for the starting job. After impressive performances in the spring Black & Gold game, Franklin and Mauk have seemingly pulled away.
Pinkel dismissed any speculation that bringing Franklin Tuesday meant he would get the starting job, saying the competition would be open until mid-August.
“He's just a great representative of our program,” Pinkel said of Franklin. “That's really how I choose to bring players here. We have a lot we could have chosen, but that's why we did it.”
Franklin, however, is still not keen on relinquishing the position to lead Pinkel’s spread offense.
“It’s always frustrating to have injuries and to not be able to perform and go out there with your team, especially after working the whole off-season, the whole spring to get back from the shoulder surgery,” Franklin said. “It’s really frustrating to have that happen and the motivation I have this year is like nothing I’ve had before.”
Pinkel suffered through lean years early in his stints at both Toledo and Missouri. He was the offensive coordinator at Washington when then-UW coach Don James gave him advice just before being introduced at Toledo.
“He looked at me and said, 'Gary, when things get tough, and they're going to get tough, you focus on doing your job.’" He said. "‘You wake up every morning and hour-by-hour you focus on doing your job. You go to bed at night and you do the same thing.’
“I walked out of that, I'm thinking, what the heck did that come from? Well, guess what, that's probably the best advice I've ever been given,” Pinkel said. “I focus on doing my job. I like doing my job. I'm driven obviously to be successful. We're used to winning. So I'm focused, like our team is, on becoming better, improving each and every week.”