Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
COLUMBIA — News of Gary Pinkel’s impending resignation after 15 years as Missouri’s head football coach appeared to have come with a happy ending Saturday night, when the Tigers defeated BYU to end a four-game losing streak.
But in actuality, the victory was just the beginning of the end.
The team’s players and coaches must now deal with the lack of stability that comes with not knowing who will be coaching the team next season.
“To think that the people who have recruited me into this could be gone in the next three to four weeks or however long it takes for us to get a coach, it’s kind of weird,” said quarterback Drew Lock, a true freshman. “Kind of weird to say the least.”
Pinkel announced Friday he would be stepping down after the season because of a lymphoma diagnosis he received in May. His players are still trying to come to terms with the fact Pinkel won’t be the man in charge next year.
“When I think of Mizzou, I think of coach Pinkel,” Lock said, “and I think that’s what the majority of the state and even the country (does too). … Coach Pinkel is definitely just the face of Missouri. I honestly can’t even put into words what he truly means to this program.”
Team captain Evan Boehm said that as the team bused Friday to Kansas City, he was trying to imagine what a Missouri program without Pinkel would look like.
“And you know what?” he said. “I don’t know.”
Director of athletics Mack Rhoades met with the team Sunday to discuss the future of the program. Lock, a highly coveted recruit out of Lee’s Summit, said the topic of transferring was discussed.
“We’re all out here, our head coach just resigned. What’s next?” he said. “I think it was good for (Rhoades) to come in and kind of ease our minds a little bit.”
Lock’s roommate, freshman receiver Cam Hilton, also felt a connection with Pinkel in their short time together. Hilton transitioned from defensive back to receiver mid-season, and said Pinkel has been instrumental to the successful switch.
“He’s been really close to me, trying to help me through that process,” Hilton said. “So I mean we’re pretty close, even though I’m only a freshman. … When he told us, I was just in shock. He’s a major reason why I picked Mizzou. He really built the family atmosphere that we have.”
Hilton was surprised Pinkel would take such a personal interest in him.
“I didn’t think the head coach of any football team would be as concerned as he is with my personal self,” he said.
Pinkel won even more favor with some of his players last week when he supported the team in a boycott of football activities. On Nov. 7, some black members of the team announced they would not play until system president Tim Wolfe left office for his handling of racist events on campus. The next day, Pinkel tweeted out his support of the boycott, and Wolfe resigned Monday.
“Coach Pinkel’s always meant a lot, within my heart and the team’s heart,” receiver J’Mon Moore said. “But just seeing him stand behind us throughout these situations, I mean, yeah, he definitely he has a warmer spot in my heart as well.
“Because I mean, a coach that is willing to stand behind his players and actually believe and understand where we’re coming from, that’s pretty outstanding. So, coach Pinkel definitely, he’s got a soft spot in my heart.”
And as for his assistants, Pinkel was fully aware of the position in which his resignation put them.
“I rocked their life,” Pinkel said. “When people get fired, that’s what happens, but there’s generally some preparation for some of that. I walked in and (said) this is what I’m going to do. There was no other way to do it, but I’m very sensitive to that.”
Pinkel’s staff had enjoyed a high level of consistency during his tenure. Last year, when defensive coordinator Dave Steckel left to coach Missouri State after 14 years at Missouri, it was noted just how infrequent departures have been under Pinkel.
“In a very, very insecure business, you get about as much security as you can have being in our football program,” Pinkel said. “And I think that’s why I’ve kept guys here for a long period of time.”
Assistants Cornell Ford, Brian Jones and Craig Kuligowski coached with Pinkel in Toledo. Quarterbacks coach Andy Hill has been at Missouri since 1996.
Offensive coordinator Josh Henson, who was brought on in 2009 as a co-offensive line coach, said the staff will be committed to coaching the rest of the season as if nothing has changed.
“You don’t know what’s going to happen or what events will take place from here,” he said, “but I think the biggest thing that we’ve got to do is we told the players and I told the players as a staff that we’re going to coach our tail off until the very end for these guys.
“We’re not going to change how we do things. We’re going to prepare just as hard as we’ve always prepared all season long and the last few years, and I think those things will play out after the season’s over, and at that point in time, we’ve got to figure out what’s going to happen from there.”
Hill said he didn’t think it would be hard to focus on football.
As “a football coach, you compartmentalize,” he said. “You play a week at a time, you box it up, you go do the next one, you’re still competitive. You still want to watch Tennessee on video, which we’ve been doing all day today, and you want to see those guys, you want to see a way to beat them and give our guys the best chance to win.
“So whether it’s two games or 102 games or whatever a guy has left, wherever you’re coaching, then you’re going to be competitive.”