The final installment in our series, celebrating the beginning of Gary Pinkel’s 15th season at Missouri focuses on 15 critical turning points during his tenure.
These aren’t necessarily game-related events, though a few are, that impacted the program in significant ways.
PINKEL ERA’S 15 DEFINING MOMENTS
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15. Dynamite DCs
Pinkel hasn’t had to deal with much staff turnover during his Missouri tenure, but he’s had some success with his defensive coordinator hires. Dave Steckel was promoted to replace Matt Eberflus after the 2008 season and the Tigers’ defense didn’t miss a beat. Luring Barry Odom back to MU after Steckel’s departure in December is widely viewed as a coup as well.
14. Beating Bill Snyder
Pinkel was winless against Kansas State’s Bill Snyder before his retirement in 2005, losing the first five meetings by an average score of 31-14. When Snyder returned to the sidelines in 2009, Pinkel finally smacked the monkey off his back by coaching the Tigers to a 38-12 victory in Manhattan behind Danario Alexander’s 10-catch, 200-yard, three-touchdown performance.
13. Independence Bowl rally
Pinkel’s seat was pretty warm as he stared down five seasons without a bowl victory when South Carolina jumped to a three-touchdown lead in the 2005 Independence Bowl. The Tigers had lost a third straight game against Kansas in the Border War earlier in the season, but Brad Smith engineered the largest rally in program history for a 38-31 win, helping secure Pinkel’s future in the process.
12. Run of first-round talent
College football programs are measured by wins and losses, APR and bowl appearances, but NFL Draft picks are important too. Missouri hadn’t had a first-round pick under Pinkel until Jeremy Maclin went No. 18 to the Eagles and Ziggy Hood went No. 32 overall to Pittsburgh in 2009, kicking off a run of seven first-round picks in the next seven drafts and helping cement the Tigers’ reputation for talent development.
11. Dismissing DGB
There were missteps in Missouri’s handling of the Derrick Washington investigation, but Pinkel didn’t waste time reacting to allegations that star wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham — the most high-profile recruit Pinkel has brought to Columbia — broke into an apartment and pushed a woman down several stairs. Green-Beckham, who also had two arrests for marijuana possession during his time with the Tigers, was dismissed despite no charges being filed.
10. Re-hiring Pat Ivey
Pat Ivey played for Missouri from 1993-95 before bouncing around the NFL. He returned to the Tigers as an assistant director of strength and conditioning in 2001, spent two seasons as the Tulsa football strength coach then returned one final time to MU in 2004. He has since transformed Missouri’s strength and conditioning program to one of the nation’s best.
9. Coordinator departures
Pinkel had the same coordinators from 2001-08 before defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus was lured to the NFL by the Cleveland Browns and offensive coordinator Dave Christensen was hired as Wyoming’s head coach. Led by Pinkel, Missouri didn’t let the upheaval tank the program’s progress. Dave Steckel replaced Eberflus and Dave Yost, who resigned after the 2012 season, replaced Christensen. Yost was succeeded by current offensive coordinator Josh Henson.
8. Most coaching wins in program history
Beating Oklahoma State in the Cotton Bowl was the perfect way for Missouri to cap its breakthrough season in 2013. It not only legitimized the Tigers’ SEC East division title, but the win came against a team from MU’s former conference, the Big 12. Perhaps most important, it was Pinkel’s 102nd at Missouri, giving him the all-time wins record, and prompting this:
7. Pinkel’s DUI
Pinkel was arrested and cited for DWI in November 2011, prompting a one-game suspension and a salary freeze. It also nearly cost him his job, but Pinkel rallied from the brink, survived his first season in the SEC and has Missouri eyeing a third straight SEC East division title in 2015.
6. Bringing in Brad Smith
One of the first recruits Missouri landed under Pinkel was an unheralded quarterback named Brad Smith. Pinkel was recruiting him at Toledo and brought him to Columbia after he changed jobs. Smith then helped change the fortunes of a program.
5. No. 1 BCS ranking
It wasn’t just beating Kansas in Armageddon at Arrowhead, claiming the greatest Border War victory in programs history 36-28 in November 2007. That win also propelled Missouri to a No. 1 ranking in the BCS, a significant feat for the Tigers.
4. Bringing along his Toledo staff
After being hired by Missouri, Pinkel phoned his mentor Don James for advice about constructing his staff. He wanted to bring along the bulk of it from Toledo, a decision James backed. Cornerbacks coach Cornell Ford, running-backs coach Brian Jones and defensive-line coach Craig Kuligowski remain with the Tigers to this day. The original staff also included Eberflus and Christensen.
3. SEC transition
Pinkel didn’t shy away from moving to the nation’s toughest football conference, which claimed BCS national championships from 2006-2012. Rather, he embraced it and found success after a rocky first season. The Tigers now have won back-to-back SEC East division titles.
2. Deft handling of Michael Sam’s situation
Before the 2013 season, Missouri defensive end Michael Sam informed teammates in a small group setting that he was gay. Pinkel and his staff helped guard Sam’s privacy as he won SEC defensive player of the year and nurtured an accepting locker-room climate, proving that MU’s talk of fostering a family atmosphere is more than mere rhetoric.
1. Aaron O’Neal’s death
The death of redshirt freshman linebacker Aaron O’Neal, a St. Louis native, sent shockwaves through the program. Missouri settled a wrongful death lawsuit out of court, but the aftershocks continue to affect Pinkel, who was not present during the fateful July 12, 2005, voluntary workout. He has softened a bit since and become more personable in the wake of the tragedy.