There’s no mystery to why Missouri coach Gary Pinkel loves Don James and mentions his mentor often.
James, a College Football Hall of Fame coach who guided Washington to a share of the 1991 national title and posted a 153-57-2 record in 18 seasons with the Huskies, coached Pinkel for three seasons at Kent State and gave Pinkel his first coaching job.
When his playing career ended, Pinkel spent two seasons as a graduate assistant at his alma mater, Kent State, before James hired him as Washington’s tight ends coach for the 1976 season.
Pinkel spent the next two years at Bowling Green as a wide receivers coach before returning to James’ staff from 1979-90 as the Huskies’ wide receivers coach for five seasons and offensive coordinator for seven.
But in the early morning hours Oct. 24, 2010, Pinkel wasn’t very happy with James, who coached Kent State for four seasons and was 178-76-3 overall as a head coach.
“We beat Oklahoma a few years ago and I’m driving home at 1 o’clock in the morning when I call Coach James up just to talk to him,” Pinkel told reporters after Missouri’s 41-26 win last Saturday at Sanford Stadium. “I started thanking him. I’ve been in this business a long time and it was a big win.
“He put a douse on the flame and said, ‘The toughest game you’re going to coach is next week.’ I didn’t listen to him very well and I got mad at him. I hung up, because I didn’t want to hear that. Are you kidding me? But our toughest game is going to be the next one coming up.”
Failing to heed James’ warning after Missouri upset the third-ranked Sooners 36-27, Pinkel’s Tigers dropped the next two games — a 31-17 loss at No. 14 Nebraska and a 24-17 loss at Texas Tech.
Now, with Missouri fresh off beating No. 7 Georgia, the program’s first true road win against a top 10 team in 35 years, Pinkel would prefer to avoid the same fate.
The 14th-ranked Tigers, 6-0, play host No. 22 Florida, 4-2, at 11:21 a.m. Saturday at Memorial Stadium in Columbia.
Since The Associated Press college football poll came into existence in 1936, Missouri is 19-115 all-time against teams ranked in the top 10.
The Tigers are 10-7 all-time in the game that follows a victory, but 3-5 when that next game is against a ranked opponent. There was no “next game” for Missouri’s 1960 team after topping No. 4 Navy in the 1961 Orange Bowl.
Under Pinkel, Missouri is 4-19 against top 10 teams, so his .174 win percentage has raised the bar slightly for the program overall (.142), but he’s is 0-3 in the game after winning “the big game.”
With the victory against Georgia in hand, Pinkel hasn’t able to talk to James, but there’s little doubt that he’ll put the advice he received three years ago from the coach with the most victories in Washington’s history to better use this week.
“Coach James is ill right now in Seattle, so — anyway — I didn’t get a chance to talk to him,” Pinkel said. “I’m going to send him a card tomorrow.”
James, 80, is currentlyundergoing chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer.