The Missouri Tigers touched down in Phoenix Arizona, as the team prepares for the Insight Bowl on Dec. 28 against the Iowa Hawkeyes. As Gary Pinkel unboarded the team plane at the Sky Harbor in Phoenix, he did a short Q & A. Here is the transcript.
“On behalf of our football program, our staff, our players and the entourage of people … Mizzou fans that are going to be coming into Phoenix, we’re real excited about being here. We’re excited about playing in Sun Devil Stadium and playing a great team like Iowa. We’re here a week early and want to enjoy ourselves and have a good time and play our best football game, and hopefully we’ll do that.”
Q: How are preparations going?
A: “Overall, we’ve had some good practices up to this point. At the beginning of these practices for the bowl, we’ve worked to get our 1s, 2s back in sync, but we’ve also spent a lot of time with our young players, and that’s kind of an emphasis that we make. It’s kind of like a spring football for a lot of our young players, and that has worked very well for us….Overall, we’ve had our share of injuries this year, probably more injuries than I’ve had for a long time, in the 20 years I’ve been a head coach. But I think certainly we’ve handled them well…We’re a pretty healthy football team and we’re ready to get going.”
Q: Did last year’s bowl game experience bring changes in your preparations this year?
A: “I just didn’t feel like we were focused well enough. One of the keys to any bowl game is to balance having a good time and then being able to come out and play your best football game. Navy dominated us, so they deserved to win because they did the right things and they’re a great football team. But my whole thing is to get our football team to play our best, and bowl games, you’ve got to be able to focus, certainly when you’re practicing and you’re meeting and you’re preparing. Enjoy yourself, and then the last 48, 36 hours, you’ve got to use for preparation to play your very best. So I’ve got to do a better job of preparing my team and hopefully I will do that.”
Q: Iowa has lost a few players. Does it have an impact on your preparations?
A: “Not really. I think that’s kind of old news for us right now. You’ve just got to get prepared for who’s going to be in. They have really great football players. This is a football team that’s lost four conference games by a total of 11 points. Their defense is ranked nationally in almost every statistical category. Offensively, they’ve got a great quarterback. (Ricky) Stanzi’s a great player. They run the ball well and they throw the ball well. Their record is no indication of the quality of team it is. Certainly, Coach (Kirk) Ferentz is one of the best coaches in the country. He’s a friend and he does a great job.”
Q: Memories of games in Sun Devil Stadium from his time at the University of Washington?
A: “Well, the one game that stands out the most that we played in Sun Devil Stadium – I don’t know what my record in Sun Devil Stadium is as an assistant coach from Washington – first of all, it was a fun place to play. It was not a fun place when you had to play Saturday afternoon in September. We generally thought that was a set-up, okay, just to let you know (laughter). When Frank Kush resigned, that weekend that all that was going down, I remember going up to the press box, and just the whole stadium, there was an eerie feeling in the entire stadium. I don’t know if we won that game or not. I vividly remember that – a legendary coach who obviously was going through some tough times, and kind of the battle within the community here over him leaving the program. I know it’s a great stadium. It’s been 20 years, probably, since I’ve been here.”
Q: What are some of the benefits to the players in the Insight Bowl?
A: “We’re excited about it. 71 degrees when we landed, they knew that. It’s been real cold up in Missouri. I told them I’ve been to Phoenix quite a bit in my years and what a great city it is. And also, there’s no question about it, I told them that this would be as first-class as any bowl that we’ve been to. We’ve been to six in a row, seven of the last eight years, we’ve been to bowls, and this will be as first-class as any, and the hospitality will be as good as any we’ve ever been a part of. (Applause.) We appreciate that. Our philosophy is, we want our players to make sure our meetings go well, practice well, and then I want them to enjoy themselves, and then get back and be able to do that the next day and refocus. One of the things I learned from Coach (Don) James when I went to bowls with Washington, this is a reward to your players for a great season. So I want them to appreciate that and enjoy the great things that Phoenix has to offer and hopefully play our best game.”
Q: What would it mean for the team to finish the year with a victory, and would it carry over to next season?
A: “My whole feeling about carrying over games is that if you happen to lose the game, you’ll do your best to certainly live with it. We lost the game last year and came back and won 10 this year. Everybody wants to end their season with a victory. I think you want to finish. We use that term a lot. You want to finish. To win 11 games would be huge, but the bottom line, we’ve got to do it. We can talk about it all we want, and we’ve got to play well. There’s no question, we’re playing a football team that, I think, is without question one of the top 20 teams in the nation. You’re going to have two teams battling. This is one of those games that you’ve got to keep battling and keep fighting and keep competing, and hopefully we can do those things and play our best football game.”