Pinkel, Sumlin Make SEC Meetings Debut
By Matt Smith
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Missouri's Gary Pinkel and Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin addressed members of the media earlier today.
The now-increased contingent of SEC coaches, athletic directors and university presidents has descended upon the Hilton Sandestin for four days of meetings to discuss a variety of on-field and off-field issues.
Missouri’s Gary Pinkel and Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin, the two new coaches to the league, discussed a number of topics related to their transitions to the SEC during Tuesday morning’s media sessions.
Pinkel has been adamant this offseason that the Tigers’ core philosophies will not change with the move from the offense-heavy Big 12 to a league known for dominant defenses.
“I have great respect for the SEC, but we’re not going to change what we do. If we need to make adjustments, we’ll make adjustments. We’re doing a lot of evaluation studies.”
The 12th-year head coach at Missouri offered little concern that the Tigers would not be ready for the physical play of the SEC. The Tigers utilize the spread offense more than any current member in the league.
“We were 11th in the nation rushing last year in the spread offense. We like to run the football. We like to be balanced. We do a lot of different things."
Pinkel has had success facing SEC teams, going 4-1 in five games since coming to Missouri. Only one of those, however, came against an SEC East team (South Carolina in the 2005 Liberty Bowl). Missouri will play in the SEC East, with its first league game coming on Sept. 8 at home against Georgia. Pinkel did not downplay the anticipation for that game.
“To say our fans are excited [for the Georgia game] is an understatement. It’s a historic game.”
The Tigers landed the No. 1 recruit in the nation in February in wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham. Missouri playing in the SEC was a factor in Green-Beckham’s decision to attend his home state university. Pinkel discussed the effects of joining a new league on recruiting.
“We came up with a master plan about how the transition will take place. Texas has become really big for us, so we still want to maintain our ties in Texas. We’ll also get into Florida, Atlanta, and south Georgia. It’ll take a couple of years to sort itself out.”
While Pinkel has over a decade of experience at Missouri to help ease the team’s move to the SEC, Sumlin has been in charge of Texas A&M for only five months. He does not see his unfamiliarity with the school to be a deterrent to the Aggies having early success in the league.
“It’s new to everybody – our administration, our fans. In away it’s kind of an advantage. [Other teams] don’t know what’s coming.”
Sumlin recognizes the differences from both Conference USA,in which Sumlin coached during his four-year stay at Houston, and the Big 12, former home of the Aggies, compared to the SEC.
“We have to change every year no matter what we’re doing.There are some great players in this league – big, fast guys on both sides of the ball. I think speed-wise we’ll be alright, but size-wise is where we’re going to have to increase the profile of the team.”
Sumlin will also move away from the 3-4 defense that both Houston and Texas A&M ran last season. Sumlin hired former Marshall coach Mark Snyder to direct the Aggies' return to a 4-3 scheme.
“[The 4-3] gives us the flexibility to play odd fronts. We’re making progress. From a personnel standpoint, we have to recruit to that. That’s where we have to improve, particularly adding another defensive lineman upfront.”
Sumlin also has seen SEC opponents at his prior stops, including Alabama (while an assistant at Oklahoma) and Mississippi State (while at Houston). The Cougars and Bulldogs played a home-and-home series in 2009 and 2010.
“We’ve got a decent idea of what we’re facing,” said Sumlin. “The big difference is space. It sounds really, really simple, but those big guys take up a lot of space on the field.”
While the Aggies don’t expect a major shift in the recruiting landscape with so much talent in Texas, Sumlin does believe some new channels should emerge from playing in the SEC as opposed to the Big 12.
“I think it’s helped. I know it hasn’t hurt us. We’ve walked around from Day One with the SEC patch on our sleeve. It’s given us a different angle in-state, but it’s also increased our footprint moving east in Louisiana and Mississippi, where we’re going to have to make some strides. Playing in the same league, it gives us a chance to compete over there. It’s opened some doors that weren’t necessarily opened before.”
Sumlin brushed off questions that sophomore Jameill Showers has emerged from the quarterback derby to replace Ryan Tannehill between four candidates: Showers, Johnny Manziel, Matt Joeckel and Matt Davis.
“I don’t know who it is. At Houston we didn’t name Case Keenum the starter until two weeks away from the first game. At Oklahoma Jason White wasn’t named until two-a-days. Both of those worked out pretty well.”
The 2011 Aggies were known for their second-half collapses. Although Sumlin couldn’t point a finger as to why the team lost five games in which it led by double digits, he is well aware of the difficulties the team faced coming out of the locker room.
“There’s not one reason you get outscored 83-0 in the third quarter in those five losses. It’s a number of things. Those are some things you have to address.”
Missouri and Texas A&M will meet in the regular season finale on Nov. 24 in College Station. Whether the two teams will still be standing after facing their first SEC gauntlet is unknown. However, both head coaches, albeit with different philosophies, are excited for the challenges of life in a new league.