Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
COLUMBIA, Mo. — Gary Pinkel’s 15th season at Missouri will be his last.
Missouri director of athletics Mack Rhoades announced Friday the school’s all-time winningest football coach will be resigning at the end of the year in light of a non-Hodgkin lymphoma diagnosis he received in May.
Rhoades and Pinkel have discussed keeping the 63-year old involved with Missouri athletics after he leaves his position.
Pinkel received multiple treatments in May and June and decided to proceed with coaching. On Oct. 27, a day after a PET scan, he decided to retire at the end of the season.
“I want to make very clear that I’m not doing poorly, and that this is a manageable disease, but it’s one that will never go away,” Pinkel said in a statement. “So many people have bigger struggles with other forms of cancer and other serious diseases, and I feel blessed that I’ve got something I can fight and still enjoy a good quality of life.
“I don’t know how many years I have left, but I want to turn my focus to life outside of the daily grind of football.”
The statement said Pinkel would keep his position until Dec. 31, “or until a new head coach is in place.”
Pinkel took over a program in December 2000 that had enjoyed just two winning seasons out of the past 17. In his tenure as Missouri’s coach, the Tigers have gone 117-71 (62.2 winning percentage), reaching 10 bowl games and winning six. Missouri has won five conference division titles in that time.
Before coaching at Missouri, Pinkel went 73-37-3 as the head coach of Toledo, setting a school record for victories. At the beginning of the season, Pinkel and South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier were the only two active coaches to hold such a distinction at two schools. Spurrier, who also holds the record at Florida, has since retired.
“It’s been an honor working with Gary since I joined the Mizzou family,” said Rhoades. “Gary is truly a coaching legend as the winningest coach at two Division I institutions while leaving a profound impact on a countless number of young men. We are extremely appreciative of all that he has done for Mizzou. It’s tough emotionally knowing that his fight with cancer is bringing his run to an end sooner than any of us thought.
“I want to commend Gary with how open he’s been with me the whole time, from the first day he came to my office in May and told me about his diagnosis, all the way to now and when he met with me personally on Oct. 28 to tell me he’d made up his mind. He’s been nothing but first class in how he’s handled the situation the whole way.”
Pinkel helped Missouri transition from the Big 12 to the Southeastern Conference in 2012, and the team reached the conference championship game two of its first three years in the SEC.
Pinkel earned conference coach of the year honors in 2007 from the Big 12 and 2014 from the SEC.
“Words can’t express how grateful I am to the University of Missouri and all of the amazing people who make it up, from the administration to the students and our fans,” Pinkel said. “Obviously, I’m so appreciative to all of my coaches and athletes. Leaving them makes this decision so tough, but I do so feeling good that the Mizzou Football program is in a better place than it was when we came in 15 years ago. I feel that Mizzou is a great job at a great school and has so much going for it that they’ll find an outstanding coach to move the program forward.”
An Akron, Ohio, native, Pinkel played tight end at Kent State before going on to coach as an assistant at Kent State, Bowling Green and Washington, where he coached under the tutelage of Don James. Throughout his career, Pinkel has consistently credited James as having been one of his biggest influences.
Pinkel’s first head coaching job came at Toledo, where he took over in 1991.
Pinkel’s announcement comes at the end of a tumultuous week in Columbia. Saturday, black players announced they would boycott team activities until system president Tim Wolfe resigned. Wolfe had been under fire for his handling of racist events at Missouri, and the team supported graduate student Jonathan Butler in his hunger strike, which he said would not end until Wolfe left office. Pinkel and the rest of the team offered their support of the boycott the following day, and less than 24 hours later Wolfe resigned, ending both the team and Butler’s strikes.
Pinkel said his backing of the boycott was rooted in supporting his players and wanting Butler to eat. Tuesday, he was asked in a radio appearance whether he supported Concerned Student 1950, the protest group of which Butler is a member. Pinkel said he did not and that the “#ConcernedStudent1950” hashtag should not have been included in his tweet supporting the strike.
Activists got wind of the interview Friday and criticized Pinkel for not fully supporting the motive behind Butler and the team’s strikes. Shortly thereafter, reports of Pinkel’s resignation surfaced.
Missouri, currently 4-5 (1-5 SEC) in Pinkel’s final season, will play at 6:30 p.m. today against BYU at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City.