Gary Pinkel Built An Impressive Legacy at Missouri

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Independent of anything that may or may not surface about Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel’s abrupt resignation, announced Friday, college football loses a true legend.

MUTigers.com reports Pinkel will finish the 2015 season, his 15th at Missouri. In those 15 years, Pinkel transformed a thoroughly up-and-down program into a model of consistency.

The Tigers represented the SEC East in the last two conference championship games, winning a combined 23 times in those seasons. The 2013 and 2014 campaigns were Pinkel’s fourth and fifth double-digit-win finishes in his tenure. The legendary Dan Devine is the only other Missouri head coach to have won a double-digit number of games, and he did so only once, in 1960.

Missouri waited almost a half-century before Pinkel led a breakthrough in 2007, coaching the Tigers to 12 wins and a Cotton Bowl rout of Arkansas. Quarterback Chase Daniel was a Heisman finalist in that 2007 season, a year which put Tigers football on the map nationally and played a huge role in Missouri gaining an invitation from the SEC a few years later.

Gary Pinkel’s coaching credentials are indeed impressive. He had Missouri on the cusp of the national championship game twice, in 2007 and again in 2013. At absolute worst, he’ll step down with a career record of 117-74 in his time at Missouri for a winning percentage of 61.3 — though I suspect it’ll be slightly better.

He boasts seven 10-plus win seasons, adding his 10-1 finish at Toledo in 2000, and 11-0-1 and Top 25 campaign there in 1995. And impressively, he did it while recruiting unheralded gems.

But Gary Pinkel transcends merely winning football games, and instead caps his career as one of the sport’s iconic figures for what he did beyond game day.

Pinkel was most recently making national headlines for his support of his team’s decision to go on strike, as a show of solidarity in graduate student Jonathan Butler’s hunger strike.

The squad’s decision wasn’t universally praised; anything but. The Tigers were scrutinized and attacked from the moment news of their strike went public. But Missouri football had the backing of its head coach.

Pinkel likewise stood with All-American defensive end and SEC Player of the year Michael Sam throughout the 2013 season, arguably the best of Pinkel’s tenure as head coach.

Sam’s been a favored and easy target for derision since leaving Missouri, which only speaks further to the importance of having an influence like Gary Pinkel there when Sam came out to his teammates.

Coaches oftentimes invoke allusions of family when discussing their programs. The atmosphere Pinkel fostered, as Sam described to ESPN when coming out as the first gay, active football player, is that of family crystallized.

“Just to see their reaction was awesome. They supported me from day one. I couldn’t have better teammates. … I’m telling you what: I wouldn’t have the strength to do this today if I didn’t know how much support they’d given me this past semester.”

Pinkel’s legacy is one of winning, sure. He’ll exit Columbia a conquering hero as Missouri’s all-time winningest coach. But when reminiscing on his tenure, his impact as a prominent head coach means a whole lot.