Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
COLUMBIA, Mo. — Prior to the Tigers’ Southeastern Conference championship clash with Alabama, Missouri football coach Gary Pinkel spoke to the importance of stability within his staff.
“I’ve had five coaches leave, one of which retired, in the years that I’ve been here. That’s very, very unusual,” he said. “I would say it’s one of the least numbers in the country. Certainly the consistency of staff, the consistency of attention to detail, how we do things in our program — we have certain ways we do absolutely everything.”
Missouri lost a little bit of that consistency Sunday when defensive coordinator Dave Steckel was announced as the next head coach of the Missouri State Bears.
Steckel, who had coached under Pinkel from 1993-94 at Toledo, joined the Missouri coaching staff with Pinkel in 2001 as linebackers coach and worked his way up to defensive coordinator and associate head coach distinctions.
Cornell Ford, who followed Pinkel on the Toledo-to-Columbia route, said he has enjoyed the stability of the Tigers’ coaching staff in the last decade and a half.
“When you talk to other coaches that have coached for a long time, they say, ‘Man, you’re blessed.’ I know that,” he said Sunday before Steckel officially took the job. “And so that’s part of the reason why there’s no reason to leave. I mean, don’t get me wrong. The money’s great, but I’m not into it because of the money. I’m into it because I want to develop myself to get myself in a position where I can be a coordinator or a head coach.”
Ford said Pinkel has a lot to do with coaches’ willingness to stay.
“I know what he wants,” Ford said. “I know what he’s looking for, and we’ve been able to establish our program so our kids know what we want. And because of that, that’s why we’ve had success. … It’s been that way throughout my career with coach Pinkel, because he’s loyal, he’s disciplined, you know what he wants. There’s a lot of structure there.”
Ford said he has had multiple opportunities to leave, but he did not feel any were the right fit.
That is how Missouri staff members have approached the job market, quarterbacks coach Andy Hill said.
“You’re always happy if anybody can move along to jobs they want to get to,” said Hill, who is also an associate head coach, “and so far it’s been true of every style and fashion that we’ve seen guys leave.”
Stability also impacts the players. Safety Ian Simon said it was a key factor to him during his recruitment process.
“I wouldn’t want to be somewhere where a guy’s going to recruit me and then the next semester he’s gone or something like that,” Simon said. “So, having somebody stable who’s been there, that’s huge. Especially for a young guy, when you come into a program, and that’s your first time being out in the world on your own and you kind of rely on that person to be there for you.”
Shane Ray said some adjustment will be necessary for Missouri players who have played under Steckel.
“Coach Stec demands excellence from all of us and a level of play. A coach like that, it’d be hard to lose at any kind of program — especially the way he commands our defense,” he said. “It would probably leave some players just a little bit unsteady.”
Or, as Simon put it: “It would be weird not having that crazy old guy yelling at me on the sideline.”
But the defensive players, who spoke after practice Sunday, said they wanted Steckel to make the move that was best for him.
“Something like that is bittersweet,” Ray said. “If he leaves, that’s a great coach you’re losing, but at the same time you’ve got to be happy for him doing what’s best for him. It goes both ways.”
That goes for the coaches, too.
“Any time a member of your family leaves — and we feel like we’re a big family here — it will always be tough, but that’s a part of this profession,” Ford said. “If you want to move on … we just pat you on the back, give you a big hug and wish you all the best.”
Steckel will coach the Tigers on Jan. 1 in the Citrus Bowl, but the future of the position afterward is up in the air. Memphis defensive coordinator Barry Odom, who coached at Missouri for nine years, and current defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski, who was not made available after Sunday’s practice, have been rumored to be potential replacements.
“I don’t think there’s a guy on our staff that wouldn’t want that position,” Ford said. “But again, coach Pinkel makes those decisions, and I just roll with it. Whoever he decides will be the guy will be the guy, and we’ll support him and help him to be the best he can be.
“But we all want to be it. There’s not a guy on our staff that doesn’t want to be a coordinator or a head coach.”
If the last 14 years are anything to go by, those coaches will be committed to Missouri until the right opportunity arises elsewhere.
“I heard Lou Holtz say this years ago when I was a grad assistant: ‘The best job to get is the one you’ve got.’” Ford said. “If you’re really good at what you do, people will come after you.”