COLUMBIA — Entering Mizzou’s first day of football practice on Thursday, senior quarterback James Franklin was enjoying a watershed moment: He was honored as one of four captains voted on by teammates.
By VAHE GREGORIAN
The Kansas City Star
This is a big thing, especially for a young man whose leadership has been questioned either because he’s not vocal enough or because when he does speak, it’s often from a tender or playful part of him.
“When the guys had talked to me and said they had my back and everything,” he said, “well, it actually shows it now, and that they have confidence in me.”
And that’s great for Franklin.
Especially because MU coach Gary Pinkel has trouble mustering even a grunt of public support for Franklin, who in 2011 had the fourth-best total offense season in Mizzou history but struggled in 2012 as he – and his offensive line – were swamped with injuries.
While in a generic sense, Pinkel said being named a captain is “the greatest compliment I think you can get,” he spent more time debunking the compliment than appreciating the honor it is when it came to Franklin.
For instance, asked “what’s your message to the captains to pass along to the team?” Pinkel said the first thing he says is, “This has nothing to do with you keeping your job, OK? There’s no bonus because you’re a captain.”
It was obvious that was a reference to Franklin, who theoretically still is competing for the job despite starting each game the last two seasons when not injured, being No. 1 on the depth chart coming out of spring practice and being chosen to go to SEC media days last month.
Pinkel made clear to whom he was referring when asked the biggest difference in Franklin from 2012 to now.
Pinkel lamented Franklin’s injuries before transitioning without further cue to say, “It’s an open competition. If anybody would suggest in any way that because he was named captain it has anything to do with (the job), that has absolutely nothing to do with him or any other captain keeping their job. … I can probably in the 23 years I’ve been a head coach, I can think of four captains who lost their job, OK?”
Never mind how few that is. Surely he wasn’t insinuating that Franklin could lose his captaincy, right?
Meanwhile, even if being a captain doesn’t assure Franklin of a job – which, actually, nobody suggested to Pinkel it had – might it be good for the program that the upstanding Franklin be a captain?
“The captain has nothing to do with any player keeping his job,” said Pinkel, either misunderstanding or distorting the question. “You can flip it, spin it, turn it all you want, OK, and you probably all will, but I’m telling you, I don’t operate like that, OK?”
Apparently, Pinkel’s point is to ensure that Corbin Berkstresser and Maty Mauk still believe the competition is open.
And so it should be, and that’s fine.
But there is a place in-between unrecognized by Pinkel, who last season publicly questioned Franklin’s toughness over a decision of conscience not to get a painkilling shot.
Without proclaiming him the starter, he could acknowledge the significance of the captaincy for him and made points about his growth.
He could have said he was happy for him — if not from an emotional standpoint, then from a practical one: Franklin is the best option he has, and not a bad one.
In other words, Pinkel could get on board with Franklin’s teammates — and have his back.