HOOVER, Ala. — Missouri quarterback James Franklin said the Tigers’ thrilling, come-from-behind, four-overtime victory over Tennessee last season helped “ease the pain” of an otherwise dismal season.
Beset by injuries, Mizzou stumbled in its first SEC season, finishing 5-7 overall and 2-6 in the conference.
The losing season — the first at Missouri since 2004 — has increased speculation about the job security of coach Gary Pinkel, who is entering his 13th season with the Tigers.
Radio row at SEC Media Days
That means when Tennessee travels to Missouri on Nov. 2 it could be pivotal for both teams. For the Vols, the game will begin a monthlong stretch that likely will determine if they are bowl-game bound. For Missouri, the month might decide the fate of their longtime coach.
“For me, I focus on my job,” Pinkel said Tuesday during the first day of SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala. “I became the head football coach at Toledo, I was offensive coordinator at Washington. I asked (longtime coach) Don James, any advice? He looked at me and said, ‘Gary, when things get tough, and they’re going to get tough, you focus on doing your job.’ ”
If Missouri is to move past last year’s slide, the Tigers will need a healthy season out of Franklin.
Officially, Franklin is still competing to regain the starting quarterback job. But he was still one of the team’s represenatives for the Media Days, flashing his familiar grin and impressing reporters with polite and thoughtful answers.
Franklin isn’t a typical jock, and his unorthodox stands have sometimes put him at odds with coaches — or fans. He eschews painkillers, even aspirin. He answers questions candidly and frankly. But his teammates and coaches love him.
Pinkel said he wants to stick with his policy of leaving the quarterback position open until August, but Franklin said that doesn’t square with his leadership style.
The quarterback is an important leader during player-led summer workouts, and Franklin said his teammates didn’t want modesty. So Franklin doesn’t talk about winning the job in August. He speaks as if he’s already won it.
“Going into the summer, I approached it with the mindset of, ‘We don’t know who the starter is going to be. It’s going to be decided in the fall,’ ” Franklin said. “But then as I got to know my team better, they don’t want that from their quarterback. They don’t want their quarterback, when two-a-days start, to be like, ‘Oh, I hope I get the job. It’s up for grabs.’ They want their quarterback to be, ‘No, it is mine. I am the starting quarterback.’ ”
Franklin has a disarming smile and an affable personality, but doesn’t apologize for answering tough questions honestly. Asked about the “rudest” fan base in the SEC, he replied “Missouri.” Why? He’s heard some nasty stuff during his time as quarterback.
As for his smile, Franklin said he “kills with kindness.”
“People that know me well understand it. But I do have to watch the smiling,” Franklin said. “Sometimes it can come across like I’m not taking it too seriously, or I don’t care.”
Franklin said there’s no doubt that he cares. And he wants badly to win.
“We had a lot of key injuries last year. We need to work better as a team,” he said. “We have to have more confidence in each other and build that chemistry. Everybody has to eat to live and when the ingredients mix well together, the food tastes a lot better.”
Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.