Based on the events of the last two months, one might think that by now, Missouri coach Gary Pinkel would finally be ready to name senior James Franklin his starting quarterback.
One would be wrong.
Although Franklin was named a team captain by his teammates Thursday, Pinkel, as he tends to do, used a story from his playing days at Kent State to hammer home the point that competition never stops on his teams, captaincy or not.
“The first message I said was what Don James said to me, and I’m sitting there with Jack Lambert and … a guy named Eddie Woodard … the first thing he said to me, all three of you guys … this has nothing to do with keeping your job,” Pinkel said. “That’s the first thing he said to me, it’s the first thing I say to my captains (in) 23 years of having captains.”
Pinkel wasn’t done.
“In the 23 years I’ve been a head coach, I can think of four captains who lost their jobs,” Pinkel said. “The captain has nothing to do with any player keeping his job. 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?”
So for now, Pinkel clearly has no intention of simply handing the job to Franklin, though he still seems well-positioned to be the starter. He managed to remain atop the depth chart throughout the spring, despite the fact he was battling in an open competition with redshirt freshman Maty Mauk and sophomore Corbin Berkstresser, and Pinkel even took Franklin to SEC Media Days in mid-July, citing him as someone he felt would represent the school well.
Yet, it’s also worth noting that Pinkel made it clear at SEC Media Days that Franklin would have to continue to battle for the job throughout preseason camp, so by naming him the starter now, he’d effectively be going back on his word.
“I can’t do it that way,” Pinkel said of naming Franklin the starter, “or all the stuff I’m telling you is not true. I can’t favor that, because I don’t do that. The best players play, and you do that on the field.”
Interestingly enough, in the midst of all of this, Pinkel also praised Franklin for the way he dealt with a difficult 2012 campaign, in which he was banged up all year and saw his production fall off dramatically as Missouri limped to a 5-7 record.
“I think it made him a little tougher mentally,” Pinkel said. “It’s always good for you, especially at that position. The criticism that goes with it, you understand the real world of college sports.”
That’s part of the reason Franklin was grateful his teammates selected him a captain Thursday alongside senior linebacker Andrew Wilson, senior cornerback E.J. Gaines and senior receiver L’Damian Washington, even going so far as to say it was a bit of a surprise, considering all his struggles last season.
“It feels pretty good that the guys picked me to lead the team this year through the good and the bad,” Franklin said. “As far as … whether my spot’s there or not, I’m really not thinking too much about it. The only time I think about it is when I’m asked about it.”
To the surprise of no one, Franklin was asked about it plenty Thursday. When asked if it feels more like his team now, he said it feels the same as it always has. When asked if it feels like it’s his job to lose, he said no — he just goes out there when he’s told, and for now, that happens to be with the first team, at least most of the time. Pinkel said he would continue to mix-and-match the quarterbacks’ reps, much like he did during the spring, so every quarterback in the race has a chance to work with the first-team unit.
So for a while, at least, Franklin will have to continue to keep working and waiting for Pinkel to make his decision, though he will admittedly be doing so with the significant vote of confidence his teammates bestowed upon him Thursday.
“When the guys had talked to me and said they had my back and everything, well, it actually shows it now and that they have confidence in me,” Franklin said. “It’s a good thing going into the season.”