Kevin Newell, the editor of Coach and Athletic Director magazine, did a terrific Q&A with Missouri coach Gary Pinkel in the magazine's August issue. Among the things Coach Pinkel emphasizes in the article are organization and fundamentals.
[Before coming to Mizzou, Pinkel, who played for and later worked as an assistant for the great Don James at Washington, was the head coach at Toledo for 10 seasons.]
Here are his thoughts on fundamentals and attention to detail:
"I remember Coach James constantly telling me to know the fundamentals and details of the position I was coaching, but always look at the big picture; to expand your knowledge on offense and defense so it could lead to another coaching position or a coordinator’s position. That knowledge of the entire offense or defense would lend itself to making that transition and hopefully having success.
[Coach James was] an organizational genius. He always talked about attention to detail. That is kind of defined at levels that most people cannot comprehend. He did absolutely everything from A to Z. We had a plan for every part of our program.
I called them the seasonal organization. We would start with spring football, then spring recruiting, summer, fall ball, in-season organization, recruiting, and your off-season program. We had a detailed organizational plan for success in every one of those areas. It’s a systems approach.
One of the many things that kind of set us a part, and one of the things that has had a big influence on me – I have done this at Toledo and now Missouri —is we evaluate every single thing that we do when we’re done. We analyze and evaluate our camps, player development, our two-a-days, regular season games, and bowl games, win or lose. We have a written evaluation from year to year. And last year we were fourth in the nation.
You always analyze and make notes. What that does is, you’re not only asking your players to get better, but you’re asking your coaches to coach better, too. This allows your program to get better each and every year and apply those lessons, good or bad.
There are a lot of people who have it on paper but don’t carry it out. I was the guy that if you had it on paper, you did it. I think that’s rule number one. It’s hard to explain this to people unless you come in and look at how we do it, but we have an exact plan for everything we do, a detailed plan. Everything is written out to the finest, minute detail and we carry those details out day in, day out. And we evaluate those things and make them better.
A lot of the times, you don’t realize the extent of what details mean unless you look out around and you find out what other people are doing. I always look at what other people are doing.
Although the foundation of our program has not changed, I am always reading about other coaches—football coaches, basketball coaches, NFL, NBA, anybody that has had success, anybody that has overcome adversity, and anybody that has built a program.
One thing I think is important to remember is that things change. Little things in every business change as well as college football. And you have to make some of those changes or it will stunt your program.
I think when you have an organizational plan you can’t be afraid to make some subtle changes. Our foundation has never changed, but there are little things internally that we have done to improve as we try to evaluate and get better.
You will not be a good football team if you don’t teach fundamentals. I tell our football players that there are just a couple of ways you become a better football player. One is player development. You get stronger, faster, and quicker every year you’re in the program. Then you get knowledge of your position.
The other thing is fundamentals, just constantly mastering the fundamentals of your position. If you do that, eventually you will become a better football player or become a better football team."