Last year, Missouri football coach Gary Pinkel brought players to the Southeastern Conference Media Days in Hoover, Ala., to answer questions about whether or not his team could compete in the conference, given Missouri’s 2-6 record its first season in the conference.
This year, the questions touched on some different topics.
• The dismissal of former top recruit Dorial Green-Beckham.
• The coming out of All-American Michael Sam.
• And, naturally, hair.
“Evan, tell us a little bit about this beards and mullets thing you guys got going on,” an interviewer asked center Evan Boehm, who represented the Tigers along with Pinkel, Maty Mauk and Markus Golden.
Boehm said last year’s linemen decided to skip shaves and haircuts until the end of the season. The group was brainstorming a new look for the 2014 season and found inspiration in the mullet and beard Mauk supposedly had as a high schooler.
“So the start of the Maty Mauk era is going to be the Beards and Mullets era,” said Boehm, sporting a beard and long hair tied back in a pony tail. “We might look good. We might not. But it’s going to be fun.”
Fittingly enough, Mauk isn’t entirely fresh faced behind center. He got a chance to start four games for Missouri in 2013 when starter James Franklin went down with a shoulder injury. He won three of those games and finished the season with 1,071 passing yards and 11 touchdowns to two interceptions.
Pinkel said he told Mauk after the win against Florida he wasn’t surprised.
“That’s the way he was in high school,” Pinkel said. “He was a great player in high school, a highly recruited player, and he’s just got the ‘it’ factor.”
With an absence of big names such as Johnny Manziel and Jadeveon Clowney that starred in last year’s Media Days, some media members might have been eager to crown the next big thing. Though Mauk declined to take the title of “Maty Football,” he didn’t shy away from comparing his skill set to Manziel, who won the Heisman Trophy as a freshman in 2012.
“I feel like I have the ability to do similar things, and that’s what people are expecting of me back in Columbia,” he said.
He’ll have to do that without a familiar target. Dorial Green-Beckham, who Mauk referred to as a “really good friend,” was dismissed by the program after legal trouble, including his involvement in a burglary investigation. Green-Beckham transferred to Oklahoma and is hoping to get a waiver that would make him eligible to play immediately. Without the waiver, Green-Beckham would not be able to play for a Division I team until the 2015 season.
Pinkel said Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops called him two months ago to talk about Green-Beckham. The Missouri contingent wished the 6-foot-6 receiver luck in his new uniform.
“He got a second chance now, and that’s real important to me,” Pinkel said. “Because that was very, very difficult for me to (dismiss him from the team). I can’t tell you what that was like. I had to do what was the right thing to do and I did, but he’s got another chance now, and I’m excited about that.”
Meanwhile, the Missouri offense has to proceed with holes left by not just Green-Beckham but tailback Henry Josey and receiver L’Damian Washington as well.
“We got Darius White coming back and Bud Sasser coming back, Jimmie Hunt, three guys that caught a lot of footballs,” he said. “So we’re very fortunate to have some guys back. In our offense, we can use running backs as receivers. We can use tight ends more. There’s a lot of things we can do.”
The defense is dealing with significant departures as well. Defensive ends Kony Ealy and Sam were both drafted. Sam made headlines in February by announcing he was gay, something he told his teammates before the 2013 season. The prospect of the first openly gay NFL player brought as much positive offseason attention to the program as the Green-Beckham story did negative. Sam received the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage at the ESPYs Wednesday night.
“It’s a societal influence,” Pinkel said in reference to Sam’s announcement. “This is really important in terms of that. (I’m) very proud of everybody, how we handled it. I hope five years from now, you know, there’s no discussions about this, that we’ve moved on (and) we respect people for what they are and what they do.”
Pinkel created some buzz of his own when he denounced the idea of up-tempo offenses creating more opportunities for injury, a cause championed by Arkansas coach Bret Bielema.
“I don’t know where all this started with,” Pinkel said. “I just know this, okay: Never once in all those years in the fastest league (the Big 12) … did I have my team doctor, my trainer, my defensive coordinator, any of my defensive coaches walk into my office and say, ‘I’m concerned about the health of our football team. It didn’t happen ever. Ever.
“I think it’s fiction.”
Bielema, who spoke later Wednesday, took issue when informed of Pinkel’s comment.
“I’m probably more of a reality‑based movie guy more than fiction, I guess,” Bielema said. “I have seen a couple good fiction movies, so I know good fiction when I see it.”
Regardless, Pinkel would likely prefer debating player safety to debating whether or not his team belongs in the SEC.
“When I became the head football coach at Missouri, I just wanted to be respected in the Big 12 and now it’s the SEC and nationally,” he said. “I just want to be respected.”