HEAD COACHES NEWS CONFERENCE - MISSOURI COACH GARY PINKELOpening comments: “The hospitality has been second to none. We’re very appreciative of that. We’re very appreciative of the people in Dallas at all the different places we’ve visited or been around. Our players have had nothing but positive things to say about the way we’ve been treated by the Dallas community, so we certainly thank you for that.
“I’m starting to feel game time coming, and I’m sure (Arkansas Head Coach) Reggie (Herring) is, too. As coaches, you get in a couple of days before the game and all of a sudden, you put your game face on and things start to get a little more serious. I’m sure our players are feeling the same thing. Today is a Thursday practice for us, so we’re getting into our gameday mode. Tomorrow (Monday) we’ll make a few adjustments, but certainly, we try to stay at our normal preparation stages so we can give ourselves an opportunity to play our best game.
“Arkansas is a great football team, an SEC team. We have great respect for the SEC and certainly great respect for Arkansas. Reggie’s been doing a good job. It’s been difficult at times for him, but he’s a class act and an outstanding coach. I have a lot of respect for him. We’ll continue our preparations, and we’re looking forward to game time.”
On diehard Missouri fan and grad Bill Cocos, a regular at MU games since 1969: “Bill’s been to every game since I’ve been here. He sits right in front of me on every away trip. Certainly he’s been as loyal and a committed Missouri Tiger as there ever will be. We certainly appreciate everything he does. It was nice after our Kansas game, when we won the (Big 12) North title, to have him in there and have him hold the trophy we got. For a guy like that, who’s been Mr. Missouri Tiger for all these years, it was really nice. He was like a light bulb, so that was very gratifying for me, on behalf of my team, to honor him that way.”
On whether the AT&T Cotton Bowl is ready to become part of the BCS: “In all the years I’ve been coaching, the Cotton Bowl has always been … considered a January 1st major bowl. It’s first class, as far as facilities go, and the city of Dallas, with what it represents … I think it should have, without question, a great opportunity to become a BCS bowl. Obviously, there’s a remarkable history that goes with it, so I think everything’s in place.”
On whether he has any control over the players’ pre-game banter: “I deal with those things internally. You always want to show respect for your opponent. Kids do things, kids make mistakes, kids overreact. I think you just have to deal with those things internally. I do know both programs, both teams, have good people. They’re first class. Once you get into game time, I don’t think it has any influence at all on the game itself.”
On whether both defenses have been overlooked in the pre-game buildup: “I don’t think Arkansas’ has been. They’ve got good athletes. They’re really, really good. The statistics bear that out. When offenses are talked about and all the great players on both offenses, any defense, from a competitive standpoint and a pride standpoint, would draw from that. I think that’s pretty normal.”
On whether he’s confident Missouri will be able to sustain 2007’s accomplishments: “First of all, it’s not me. It’s a lot of people. It’s the coaches and the administration. What you do is (build) around next year’s seniors again. Get back into your program, try to develop the chemistry of your team, work hard and get stronger. That’s what this team has been doing, and that’s all I’ve really focused on. I’d like to think this team can win at a higher level more consistently. Going into this year, we hadn’t done that. We hadn’t won at this level. I won’t make predictions, as you well know. We’re just going to keep working hard, recruiting well and doing what we do in our program. Hopefully we can win at a higher level on a consistent basis, but time will tell.”
On whether he’s concerned QB Chase Daniel will be distracted playing before family and friends near his Southlake home: “I don’t worry about that with Chase. He’s been in the arena a lot. He’s been in tough games and he’s been thrown in the limelight, even when he was in high school. Playing on ESPN, getting interviewed … all those things helped prepare him for this. As the season has gone on with the magnitude of the games, the championship, the Heisman hype and all those things. He’s handled it well, for the most part. He’s such a competitor. He loves to play football, he loves game day. He’s not perfect. He makes mistakes, like everybody else does, but the one thing with him is you know you’re going to get the greatest effort. He’s going to give you everything he’s got out there, and hopefully he’ll play well.”
On whether he expects changes on his coaching staff, which has remained intact for seven years: “I don’t know. My whole staff’s been here for seven years, and with the exception of (receivers coach) Andy Hill, they were with me at Toledo for quite a few years. People ask me that all the time but honestly, I’ve never sat down in a staff meeting and asked them, ‘Why are you still with me?’ I’ve never done that, so I really don’t know. I kid around and say, ‘Maybe I’m not mean enough.’ I don’t know what it is. I’m pretty loyal and obviously, they seem to be pretty loyal. I want my coaches to be at Missouri because they want to be at Missouri. That’s real important to me. But I also want them to be able to move on when the right opportunity presents itself.
“Years ago, they were still with me because they weren’t very good. Now they’re real good, and they might leave. I’ve got a good staff. They’re really good people. That’s helped us out with continuity. The kids we’ve recruited have had the same position coach the entire time they’ve been here. As far as relationships, that’s hugely important for the development of the kids. I also think it’s been very important from a recruiting standpoint. Every single one of my coaches has had the same recruiting area for seven straight years. The coaches we have in Texas have been in the same high schools for the entire time we’ve been there. That continuity is important.”
On the departing seniors’ contributions to the Missouri program: “I’ll grab them tomorrow. I talk to them all the time, but certainly it’s going to be difficult. Both teams have seniors that have had an impact at the universities, and you always want to end it right for your seniors. They’re never going to wear the uniform again. From our standpoint, our players have changed Missouri football. They’ve changed it in the five years they’ve been here. As they get older, they’ll certainly appreciate it more than they do now. They’ve been so loyal and dedicated to us and the university; I certainly owe them a lot. I think they know how much I appreciate them.
“As far as relationships, it’s going to be real difficult. I’ve grown close to these kids. We’ve been through the ups and downs. We’ve been to four bowls in the last five years and now we’re in a January 1 bowl. We’ve been through a lot together. I’m really going to miss these kids. But you know what? Just because you have the leadership one year doesn’t mean you’re going to come out all set the next year. They’ve been a great visual aid for our players. The chemistry of the team and the leadership of the team is going to dramatically change. Obviously, we want to do it in a positive way, and it’s my job to get that done. Just because you have great leadership and chemistry one year doesn’t mean you’re going to have it the next. The visual aid these guys have been to the team will hopefully help build leaders to come at Missouri.”
On the loss to injury of SS Pig Brown: “He was our best defensive player and we lost him mid-season. He’s a great, great young man. He’s a guy that was voted captain after two years as a junior college player, which is very unusual. He’s a high-energy guy. He’s at the practice field all the time, working with the kids and coaching kids. He’ll say some things pre-game, in the locker room and on the sidelines and get guys fired up. He’s been involved in the team in every way, and I’ve sure appreciated that.”
On the impact LB Aaron O’Neal’s loss has had on the team: “It’s (affected) our whole football team. The younger players know the story and the history, and certainly the older players do, (with) their love for AO and their relationship. It’s always been inspiring for us. He would have been a redshirt junior this year. We honor him every day – very respectfully – and every practice, every workout we have. That’s something the leadership of our team has done the last couple of years, and we’ll continue to do that until he would have graduated next year. We’ll honor him in other ways. It’s something we do internally. He is and always will be a part of all these kids and who we are.”
--72nd AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic--