Gary Pinkel, A Coach on the Hot Seat


The 2013 College Football season begins this weekend and already there is talk about coaches on the hot seat; and University of Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel is listed among most of those lists. This is not to defend Pinkel but to take a closer look at his tenure as head coach of the Tigers. Is the term hot seat appropriate for him as the Tigers enter their second season in the SEC?

Gary Pinkel arrived in Columbia, Mo. in 2001 from Toledo where he put together a solid resume and was coming off a 10-1 record with the Rocekts. Obviously there would be some growing pains for Pinkel and his staff but they quickly laid the foundation and led Missouri into the upper echelon of the Big 12, eventually making a move into the “Holy Land” of the SEC. After 12 seasons Pinkel is poised to become the program’s all-time winningest coach, surpassing Dan Devine and is just 10 wins away from his 100th win as Tiger head coach. 

Why the Heat?
Gary Pinkel was thrust onto the hot seat largely because of the disasterous 2012 season. It was the first year for the Tigers in the SEC and nearly anything that could go wrong did. They were hit hard with injuries and players leaving for the draft. Their quarterback, which a year earlier was considered one of the top dual-threats in college football, looked like a freshman. They obviously were not up to par in the trenches as they entered the SEC and finished with a 5-7 record, snapping seven straight winning seasons. Now despite the injuries suffered by the Tigers Pinkel and his staff do not get a pass. They were too thin at key positions (offensive line) and failed to maximize the talent of the top-rated recruite (Dorial Green-Beckum).

Which leads to the second reason Pinkel is on the hot seat. Many feel that Pinkel and his staff are struggling because he has failed to secure the top talent in the St. Louis area. I do not feel like his staff is purposely ignoring the St. Louis prep stars but if they do not want to go to Missouri that is a problem (although I think that problem begins with people in the state’s perspective about Mizzou which I will talk about in another blog). Missouri is going after the players they feel can help but many are ending up elswhere. Look at Ezekial Elliott. Mizzou was a finalist for the highly touted running back but he chose Ohio State. Lets see people are blaming Mizzou for losing a prospect to Ohio State? Seems kind of silly. 

Another issue people point to is Pinkel does not win big games. I am not sure if they do not count wins over Nebraska and Oklahoma as big wins or Mizzou’s bowl success against SEC teams Arkansas (which featured McFadden and Felix Jones) and South Carolina. They point to the regular season games against such foes as Miami of Ohio and McNeese State. Well again this is a narrow perspective by Tiger fans. Take a look at Alabama’s schedules, you will see Florida Atlantic, Western Carolina and Western Kentucky, multiple series games against Georgia Southern. This is the way teams schedule today. Oh you say well Alabama plays a near impossible schedule. Well then you better give the 2012 Tigers a break because they played the toughest schedule in the country, with a 9.12 ranking. Alabama was 14th with a 5.51 score. 

The Power of Pinkel
Now let’s examine the Power of Pinkel. When Gary Pinkel of arrived in Columbia he was taking over a program that had just two winning seasons in the previous 17 years. Yes you read that right. TWO WINNING SEASONS IN 17 YEARS. That is not just a program in a funk but a program that was dead. Pinkel came into Columbia and made the Tigers matter again. It took a few years, three losing seasons in the first four, but soon the Tigers were making noise and about to roar. The Tigers made their first bowl under Pinkel in 2003, with a dynamic young quarterback named Brad Smith at the helm. The Tigers upset #10 ranked Nebraska that year, snapping a 24 game losing streak to the Cornhuskers. The Tigers remained an average team, getting into the rankings every now and then and picking up eight wins for the next few seasons. But in 2007 the Tigers took the next step. They notched just their second double digit win season in program history, going 12-2 and achieving a #1 ranking during the season and came within a week of playing for the national title. They followed with another double digit win season in 2008 and yet another in 2010. Mizzou was no longer middle of the pack in the Big 12 but one of the top teams. 

Another fact that can not be overlooked is the talent level that Pinkel has brought into Columbia. Believe it or not but Mizzou has had 23 players drafted during Pinkel’s tenure. This includes first-round picks Sheldon Richardson, Aldon Smith, Blaine Gabbert, Jeremy Maclin, Sean Weatherspoon, Ziggy Hood and Justin Smith. The ability to bring talented players to Columbia can not be understated. 

By The Numbers

  • Gary Pinkel has led the Tigers to three double digit win seasons in his tenure. The program has four total in program history
  • The Tigers have been to eight bowl games, going 4-4 in those post-season outings. 
  • He has led the Tigers to 8 winning seasons in his 12 years. The program had two in previous 17 years before he arrived. 
  • The team has been ranked at some point in a season on eight occassions. 

The Analysis
Gary Pinkel often takes large amounts of criticism but is overlooked for what he has done for Mizzou. He revived a program and took them to the verge of conference championships until moving on into the SEC. Do I think he can coach in the SEC? Possibly. The bigger question is can they recruit the right players. There is an old saying that a coach is only as good as their players. Had Pinkel had the 2007 Tigers last year in the SEC there is no doubt in my mind they would fared better in the SEC. I don’t think this is a matter of whether he can coach in the SEC. It simply comes down to recruiting. In the end, whether correct or not, this is probably a make or break year for Pinkel and his staff. If this is the end for Pinkel he can count me as one of those that will remember the resurrection project he accomplished for Mizzou. But I hope he can go out with a bigger bang. Let’s hope James Franklin can return to his form from 2011 and Mizzou can make a little noise (roar) in the SEC this season. 

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