Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
KANSAS CITY — Gary Pinkel has been coaching football a long time. Attend any of his press conferences, and he’ll be sure to remind you: 25 years as a head coach — 10 at Toledo, 15 at Missouri.
But Pinkel’s press conference after Missouri’s 20-16 defeat of BYU on Saturday night was the first in which he could say just how much time his coaching career had left.
The Tigers’ all-time winningest football coach will roam the sidelines for two more regular-season games and, should they win one of those, potentially a bowl game.
In a meeting Friday afternoon, Pinkel told his players he would be resigning after the season because of a non-Hodgkin lymphoma diagnosis he received in May.
“It was one of the most emotional 15 minutes of my life,” Pinkel said.
Receiver J’Mon Moore called it unlike any other meeting of his college career.
“You definitely could tell he had something to tell us, but we didn’t know, and he was crying,” Moore said. “There were a lot of hurt people in that room when he told us what was going on.
“Some of us were confused, because it just hit us so fast. That meeting was emotional. Coach Pinkel was pretty hurt. You could tell that he didn’t want to do it, but it was out of his hands.”
News of his resignation was not supposed to be made public until a later date, Pinkel said.
But when word got out Friday afternoon, Pinkel knew he had to make sure his players got the news from him.
His resignation was the latest in a string of events at Missouri to make national headlines that week. The team had announced a boycott Nov. 7 in support of a graduate student refusing to eat until the school’s system president left office. In the subsequent days, Pinkel professed his support for the team, system president Tim Wolfe and chancellor R. Bowen Loftin announced their resignations, and anonymous threats of a terrorist attack in Columbia were made on social media.
“I think I’m just going to put a chapter in my book called ‘The Week,’” Pinkel joked.
All that before the team’s 15-year coach announced he was battling blood cancer.
“All of a sudden, throw that” on top of everything, Pinkel said. “Right before a game.”
Pinkel feared the news would be too much for his team to handle with the game, being held at Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium, not far off.
“I just felt bad. I thought I blew it,” he said. “But, God love them. That’s why … it’s about those guys.”
Instead, the news gave the team a simple mission at the end of a week that was anything but. Win one for coach.
“I felt like we were even more hungry to get this win for coach Pinkel,” team captain Ian Simon said. “This was his last time coaching at Arrowhead. He’s had some historical games here, so I just feel like we wanted it that much more for him.
“It wasn’t like we even said, ‘Let’s get this one for G.P.’ It was just in the back of everybody’s mind to go and get it done for him.”
Pinkel had reaffirmed his support of his players earlier in the week when he tweeted his support of the boycott with a team photo and the following caption: “The Mizzou Family stands as one. We are united. We are behind our players. #ConcernedStudent1950 GP.”
The hashtag referred to the protest group that made a list of demands, including Wolfe’s resignation, in support of graduate Jonathan Butler’s hunger strike.
Moore, who received texts of support from members of the group before the game, said the team would have gone through with the boycott even if it had known of Pinkel’s cancer diagnosis.
“I mean, with coach Pinkel’s health being how it is, as serious as it is, we wouldn’t want to boycott, and just knowing that it’s his last year, we wouldn’t want to do that,” Moore said. “But with the circumstances, I’m pretty sure we still would’ve done it.
“But I mean at the end of the day, we didn’t miss the game, we started practice on Tuesday, it was a normal week for us. That’s all God with timing.”
Safety Anthony Sherrils also believed the team would have boycotted even with Pinkel’s health concerns, saying “coach Pinkel supported us no matter what.”
In a radio interview Tuesday, Pinkel said he was mistaken in his use of the Concerned Student 1950 hashtag and he did not intend for anyone to lose their job.
But the specifics of Pinkel’s support didn’t seem to matter to his players.
“He made a statement that said he supported us,” Sherrils said. “That’s the only thing we needed. Anything else was just extra.”
Moore concurred: “The fact that he supported us in our beliefs, that’s all that matters.”
And the players’ admiration for Pinkel dates much further back than Sunday’s tweet.
“I’ve been around him for about eight years now — ever since he started recruiting me — and everything he told me he would do, he did that and more,” linebacker Michael Scherer said. “He’s helped me develop into a man. He’s taught me so many things that I will never ever be able to repay him for. I love him, I appreciate him, I’m going to miss him.”
He’s not the only one.
“He’s given his life to this program, he’s helped a lot of young men become great men themselves,” Simon said. “Coach Pinkel is going to be missed. I love the (heck) out of coach Pinkel.”
The players had a chance to show their love after the game. Amid chants of “Gary Pinkel” from the Arrowhead Stadium crowd, the Tigers swarmed Pinkel with their own cheers of “G.P., G.P., hey!” They were rewarded with some dance moves befitting a 63-year-old coach.
“When the chant gets to going, then G.P. gets to dancing,” Sherrils said.
Simon, a senior, called it one of his five best moments as a Missouri player.
“I feel like that’s the culmination of everything we talk about,” he said. “Being a family and celebrating as a family, doing that, especially for a man who is willing to do anything for you.”
Pinkel will address the media and fans about his retirement this morning in an event at Mizzou Arena.
Doors will open at 9:30 a.m., with the program scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m.
It will be televised by the SEC Network.