Minutes after thrusting the Cotton Bowl trophy high over his head, Missouri coach Gary Pinkel — egged on by his players — showed off a few dance moves Friday in the locker room at AT&T Stadium after the Tigers’ 41-31 win against Oklahoma State.
The victory matched the school record for wins in a season — both the 2007 and 2013 Missouri teams finished 12-2 — but it also represents a significant milestone for Pinkel, who moved alone into first place on the Tigers’ career coaching victories list.
Pinkel, 61, who improved to 102-63 during a 13-year career at Missouri, had been tied with Don Faurot, who went 101-79-10 in 19 seasons and had the Memorial Stadium field named after him.
“Don Faurot, who he is and the things he stood for, I’m honored … very honored, to be the winningest coach in Missouri history,” Pinkel said.
Considering that Pinkel was widely considered to be on the hot seat before the season, it’s a noteworthy achievement.
“Coach Pinkel challenged the leadership on this team early in the year,” senior wide receiver L’Damian Washington said. “He said, ‘You guys have got the biggest responsibility of any senior group that’s come through Mizzou. You’ve got to Mizzou back on a winning track.’ We all were on the hot seat.”
Odds seemed greater that Pinkel’s job could be in jeopardy if Missouri endured another disappointing turn through the SEC. Instead, he guided the Tigers to a post-New Year’s Day bowl and busted a move in the winning locker room.
Pinkel entered the 2013 season 90-61 in his Missouri career, and the Tigers were coming off a disappointing 5-7 season.
Only the extremely optimistic — or keenly insightful in the case of Washington, who predicted double-digit wins at SEC Media Days — would have dared predict Pinkel might chase down Faurot before the season’s end.
“It’s very special to these seniors especially, because we’ve all grown real close to this coaching staff,” senior left tackle Justin Britt said. “We’re proud to be able to be the senior class that was able to do that. I’ll never forget what coach Pinkel has taught me and I think he’ll always remember this senior class and what we’ve done.”
Missouri’s storybook run also included an SEC East crown, but the Cotton Bowl victory — and all is brought it — was the crowning achievement.
“We ended (the season) with an exclamation point,” Washington said. “We put some force behind the season. If you want to be remembered, you’ve got to end the season with a win.”
It’s definitely a win worth dancing about.
“We got the job done,” sophomore center Evan Boehm said. “It wasn’t a pretty way to get it done, but a win’s a win and you’ve got to celebrate it. It’s huge for coach Pinkel, getting that 102nd win, and it’s huge for this program to tie the school record.”
Missouri has reached double-digit wins in four of the last seven seasons — 12-2 in 2007, 10-4 in 2008, 10-3 in 2010 and 12-2 in 2013. The Tigers are 65-28, a .699 win percentage, during that span.
“There’s a lot of people that had a lot to do with winning all those games,” Pinkel said. “It goes all the way back to Toledo. There’s a lot of coaches, administrators, players and academic support people and trainers. Winning isn’t all about me. … I thank all those people who were part of that.”
Of course, the life of a football coach can be cruel. Preparation for the 2014 season begins in short order as the chase to pad Pinkel’s record ensues.
“I don’t think the University of Missouri is rebuilding next year,” Boehm said. “They’re going to reload. We have a lot of great players and a lot of great athletes coming back. … It’s going to be a special team again next year and another Missouri team to look out for.”