Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. Or pretty close to the same, anyway.
So it goes in Columbia, where Gary Pinkel, following the resignation of Dave Yost as offensive coordinator after a very, very disappointing season for the formerly high-flying Missouri offense, has decided to promote in-house. The Tigers' new top man on offense is Josh Henson, who has served as the offensive line coach for the program since 2008. Prior to that, he was an assistant for four seasons at LSU.
In a somewhat related move (in that they are both moves involving offensive coaches), Andy Hill, formerly the team's wide receivers coach, has been promoted to associate head coach (no, I don't know what that means either), and will serve as the team's quarterbacks coach. (That one I do know what it means, and think it's probably a good idea.)
So, no real shakeups in Tigerland. I suppose we shouldn't be surprised. I'm not sure we shouldn't be disappointed, though.
Look, here's the thing: Gary Pinkel has earned some leeway. He really has. What he has accomplished in his time at the head of the Mizzou football program is pretty damned special. The Tigers were also-rans for a very long time before Pinkel took over the program, and -- admittedly aided by some very patient bosses -- he has taken them from there to the upper echelon of college football teams. Not exactly 'perennial powerhouse' status, but something fairly close to that.
And see that part where I said patient bosses? Well, patience hasn't been a virtue only of the athletic department around Pinkel; it's been very much a watchword of Pinkel himself. Along with stability. This is a coaching staff which has not gone through major upheavals at any point in the current coach's tenure. Gary Pinkel clearly believes in the men he has chosen to work with, and he clearly believes in the vision and the program he's established. And, as I said, it's hard to argue with the results. The man has earned a bit of grace.
On the other hand, I will admit to having been excited at the prospect of some fresh blood entering into the Mizzou coaching staff when names of prospective hires started circulating. Not necessarily because I thought the Tigers needed a big name, or some change in direction. Let's face it; there wasn't going to be a radical shift in philosophy no matter what. The Tigers' current offensive system is as much the child of Pinkel as it was Yost or his predecessor Dave Christensen. Whoever the hire was, the philosophy was likely going to be very similar. And I'm perfectly okay with that, honestly.
But. there comes a time when all the same old voices maybe just turn into a bit of an echo chamber, you know? There's a reason organizations choose to bring in new blood from time to time, and I do wonder if now wasn't the time to do so. Fresh faces, fresh blood, often equal fresh ideas. Or, if not fresh ideas, at least fresh eyes not dulled to what is in front of them by the contempt of endless familiarity. Instead, we will see the Tiger offense coached by one of the men chiefly responsible for the direction of the team over the past several years, one of the many voices in that echo chamber.
That's not to say Henson doesn't bring some things to the table; he does. Chief among his attributes -- to my mind, at least -- is his familiarity with the SEC from his time at LSU. The man worked under Les Miles and has seen as much as anyone of the monstrous defenses the Southeastern Conference can throw at you. His charge, the offensive line, was the weakest link in the Tigers' anemic attack this past season, but that has more to do with health (as in a distinct lack thereof), than any issue with the coaching or system, I believe.
Perhaps the biggest feather in Henson's cap, though, isn't really on the coaching side of things at all; rather, it's his recruiting ability that may be number one on his list of qualities. During his tenure at LSU, Henson served as tight ends coach, but he also held the title of -- and this is key now -- recruiting coordinator. And in case you haven't noticed, LSU tends to do some pretty great things in terms of recruitment. Henson was definitely a part of that while he was part of Miles's staff. That's not to say a recruiting coordinator does a ton of on the ground, in the living room kind of work recruiting, but it's his baby overall.
Given that backdrop, I can't say I'm surprised Henson ended up with the job. We've seen the loyalty and stability angle of Gary Pinkel's coaching style, and here we have a coach who not only has prior experience facing SEC defenses week in and week out, but also has an intimate knowledge of the recruiting trail in the conference as well. Given he apparently had some leverage in the form of an offer from Southern Miss, I'm sure this move was as much about Pinkel and Co. not wanting to lose his experience as it was feeling he was the absolute best choice for this job.
So there you have it: prior SEC experience, plenty of recruiting acumen, and a history at Mizzou that has seen some of the better offensive lines -- and most productive rushing attacks -- in recent memory. Josh Henson is a fine choice to take over as offensive coordinator, based on what he brings to the table.
And yet I still find myself slightly dissatisfied. Things in Columbia seemed stale this past year, with an offense that never seemed able to find traction amid confusing gameplans and baffling choices. Maybe this is just the sort of change-but-not-entirely-change the program needs to get back on track. A little luck in the health department alone would make a sizable difference for the Tigers, to be sure.
But after this many years of stability and loyalty and patience, I can't help but wonder if the time wasn't right for Gary Pinkel to bring in an actual new voice, and some actual new blood. Someone who hasn't already been on this staff for several years, coaching under this same system and philosophy, contributing the same pairs of eyes and same ideas year after year. Change for change's sake is rarely the answer to anything, but I feel like this would have been change for a good reason. I think this Missouri bunch could use a little bit of a shakeup, to be honest.
Instead, it's hi-ho for the echo chamber, and staying the course all the way. Say what you want about Gary Pinkel, but if this hire tells us anything, it's this: the man believes in what he's doing and he's willing to see it through to the very end. So far, there hasn't been much reason to doubt that vision. This, though...the stakes are very high with this move. For his sake, I hope Gary Pinkel made the right choice.